Can an HOA board change the rules governing exterior structures? This reader’s homeowner’s association board denied a request it approved for other owners.

Q: I recently purchased a single-family detached home in a 55+ community which has a pergola covering my patio. 

I petitioned my homeowner’s association to allow the installation of clear roof panels on my pergola for year-round weather protection. They denied the request. Upon receipt of the denial, I appealed to the association asking them to reconsider due to the fact that other homeowners in the community have roof coverings on their pergolas and that I would be happy to install the same type on my pergola. This appeal was also denied and they responded that the declaration gives the board of the association the right, as it changes, to change their view relating to aesthetic matters, as well as interpretation, application and enforcement of the design guidelines in the homeowner’s association documents. 

Based upon the aforementioned do I have any recourse with the association or should I consider the matter closed?

Can an HOA Board Change the Rules Governing Exterior Structures?

A: Well, that doesn’t seem quite right. From where we sit, we think your homeowners association should have some consistency in the design and construction guidelines for all pergolas in the development. 

While we understand that one board of directors can differ from the next on what they think is nice and aesthetically pleasing, if the look of the pergola is consistent with others on the property, it shouldn’t matter what materials are used under the covers, so to speak. And, we wonder why they’d no longer allow what most everyone has already done.

Most association documents contain language that gives the board some cover, but typically association boards have a duty of good faith to their fellow owners and can’t act in a discriminatory or capricious manner.

What Are the Next Steps When an HOA Board Denies Your Request?

The curt tone of the letter makes this seem like a capricious denial. You may want to wait until the next election of association board members and make your request again. (You might even want to run for a board seat, so you can see what is really going on.) You could hire an attorney to review the issue, but we don’t know how far that will get you, whether you’ll make enemies or friends, or how much it will cost. You should also research the rules of the association to see if there are any documents that describe what can and can’t be built. We assume that your association documents allow people to modify or add on different items to the homes. Some of these may be structural changes and others aesthetic. 

If you can figure out what standard the board must use legally to evaluate construction and aesthetic changes to the buildings, you’ll have more insight on how to plead your case. You may also be able to review some of the older meeting minutes to figure out what other owners said to get those boards to grant the approval and see if your request is similar (or different enough) to instruct your appeal. Finally, we suggest you make friends with the owners of the other pergolas and solicit their suggestions on how to get your petition through the board.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.

More on HOA Boards and Governing Documents

Understanding HOA Rules on Home Exchanges and Rentals

What Makes a Good Homeowner’s Association Board?

How Much Personal Information Do You Have to Give to the HOA?

Is the Condo Board Responsible for Enforcing Association Rules?

Can You Lose Your Home if the HOA Goes Bankrupt?

When the Homeowner’s Association Doesn’t Uphold Rules