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Subject to the governing documents and applicable law, members have the right to improve their properties. (Civ. Code § 4760.)

"Architectural Standards," also called "Architectural Guidelines," "Design Rules," etc., establish an association's policies and procedures for alterations, modifications and improvements to an owners' property, common areas, and exclusive use common areas. Guidelines often include subjective aesthetic considerations. Architectural standards provide detail to matters that may or may not be covered in the CC&Rs. For example, the CC&Rs may not cover paint colors or acoustical standards but both can be included in the architectural standards. 

Maintaining the architectural integrity of the development has been recognized by the courts as an important function of an association.

Maintaining a consistent and harmonious neighborhood character, one that is architecturally and artistically pleasing, confers a benefit on the homeowners by maintaining the value of their properties. (Dolan-King v. Rancho Santa Fe.)

Another important function of the Association is to preserve the aesthetic quality and property values within the community. (Cohen v. Kite Hill.)

Because associations are responsible for the common areas and because CC&Rs prohibit alterations to the common areas without prior approval of the board of directors or an architectural committee, boards should adopt written architectural guidelines. They can be incorporated into the Rules and Regulations or be stand-alone architectural standards.

Content of Guidelines. An association's architectural standards should include the following:

1.  Standards. Condominiums and townhomes should establish acoustical standards for items such as hard surfaced flooring, higher standards for plumbing fixtures (brass angle stops, braided supply lines, etc.), submittal of plans for major remodels, etc. Planned developments should have written standards for paint colors, roofing materials, fencing, landscaping, etc.

2.  Remodeling Agreement. Remodeling agreements are important for condominiums and planned developments alike. The agreement is signed by the owner and describes the scope of work, limits the owner to work approved by the board (or Architectural Review Committee), makes the owner responsible for damage to common areas, requires licensed and insured contractors, requires building permits, sets a deadline for completion of construction, contains and indemnity provision, etc.

3.  Contractor Rules. Contractor rules (and fines against the owner for rules violations by his contractors) should include items such as restricting work on holidays (define which holidays), defining hours when work may occur, etc.

Membership Review. Architectural standards are developed and approved by the board of directors. Adopting or amending architectural standards is considered an operating rule change that requires 28-days notice to the membership before it can be adopted. See procedures for adopting rules.

Enforceable. Architectural Guidelines are enforceable operating rules. (Civ. Code § 4355.) Unrecorded architectural guidelines and rules are enforceable. (Rancho Santa Fe Assn v. Dolan-King (2004) 115 Cal.App.4th 28; Dolan-King v. Rancho Santa Fe Assn. (2000) 81 Cal.App.4th 965; Clear Lake Riviera Community Assn v. Cramer (2010) 182 Cal.App.4th 459.)

Approval Procedure. See Architectural Approval Procedure and Appeals.

ASSISTANCE: Associations needing legal assistance can contact us. To stay current with issues affecting community associations, subscribe to the Davis-Stirling Newsletter.

Adams Stirling PLC