Homeowner Associations and Fences
So you decide that want a fence. Then three little letters enter your mind: HOA. The gears spin and one question will lead to the next. Here is why:
HOAs are inconsistent. No two are alike. Each possesses their own process, guidelines, and standards. As a result, there is no uniform answer. No magic sentence. There are only questions that need to be answered and approvals obtained.
For most, obtaining HOA approval will be easy. For some, it will be a daunting task, and for some, they will find this guide too late.
Questions and Answers
Question: Do I Need My Homeowner Associations Approval?
If you live in an active HOA, the answer is YES.
Question: Is My HOA Active, Voluntary, or Expired?
All homeowner associations are a corporation, and all possess governing documents: Covenants, Conditions, By-laws, and Restrictions. As a result, an HOA must be registered with the State of Florida; and the governing documents recorded with the Clerk of The Court in the county they are located.
To lookup an HOA status, click on the following link: Corporate Lookup State of Florida.
Type in your HOA's name. A list of Corporate Names will appear. Once you find your HOA, find the heading titled "Status." There are only three possibilities: (1) Active, (2) INACTIVE, or (3) NAME HS. If "Active", you need approval. The other two generally do not require approval; however, you need to locate the governing documents.
To look up any HOA's governing documents, visit your local County Comptroller's website; and do a document search. Any document that has been filed on behalf of your HOA will appear. HOAs are required to record their governing documents.
Orange County: Click Here
Lake County: Click Here
Seminole County: Website Application Outdated.
Once the governing documents are obtained, the year the HOA was created and how long the deed restrictions run with the land are generally located in the first few paragraphs. In most cases, it's twenty-five - thirty years. Most governing documents expire unless renewed; however, some governing documents possess automatic renewal clauses.
When all else fails, just Google the name of the Homeowner's Association.
Question: How do I seek my HOA's approval?
Although each HOA is different, every HOA has some type of Architectural Review Committee (ARC or ARB or ACR). These types of committees' sole purpose is to review all improvement and make sure those improvements comply with the restrictions outlined in the covenants, conditions, guidelines.
An Architectural Review Committee generally meets monthly. Depending on the HOA's governing documents, state, and local laws, an ARC generally has 30 days to respond to a homeowner's request unless the governing documents specifically state otherwise. If they fail to respond within that time frame, the ARC and HOA ability to regulate the improvement will be limited.
It's why, when submitting, all documentation should be sent via certified return-receipt mail. Remember, faxes get munched; and emails go missing. The burden of proof rest on the homeowner, not the HOA.
Question: What If I Don't Know Who Manages My HOA?
No worries. Who manages the HOA can be obtained by searching the State website. To look up an HOA with the State of Florida, click on the following link: Corporate Lookup State of Florida. Type in the HOA's name. A list of corporations will appear. Click on your HOA. The page will load, and you will find everything you're looking for and more: Principle Mailing address and submitted annual reports.
Annual reports are key because they contain the current Board of Director's names. Names are attached to the address. From there, you can visit your local County Property Appeaser website and do a property search. Go knock on a door if necessary.
Question: Where Do I Obtain and HOA Application?
Every HOA has some type of application or architectural improvement form. If the HOA is professionally managed, give them a call or visit their website. If the HOA is self-managed, contact the President of your Homeowners Association.
Question: What do I submit?
First, realize ARC can be fickle-minded. A well-written cover letter often provides them direction. If you know something is going to be a problem, address it upfront. Define the issue, but be polite.
Below is a list of items that should be submitted.
- A filled out ARC form.
- Provide a complete description of the improvement to be completed.
- Include things like the type of materials, colors, and setbacks.
- Include A copy of the fence proposal along with a land survey generally highlighting the proposed fence line.
- Include drawings and pictures of the Fence.
Double-check everything. It's always wise to cross-reference the measurements on the proposal and the measurements on the land survey, especially the side stretch extending from the house to the property line. If the proposal states 11' feet, but your land survey states you only have 10' feet, the ARC can reject the application based on that single discrepancy.
That happens, it's another 30 days.
Question: What If My ARC Rejects My ARC Form?
First things first, take a deep, deep, deep breath. Do not threaten to sue. You are only suing yourself. Next, you will have to make a decision. Do you want to comply or do you want to challenge the decision?
Do understand, if your governing document specifically states that something is not specifically allowed--chances are confrontation will find little success. Your only opinion is to organize your whole community and have the governing documents amended. That could be an uphill battle.
However, if there are extenuating circumstances based on real hardship, it might be worth the effort. Things such as medical disabilities or privacy issue.
What I have often found is ARC sometime like to play by their own rules and enforce by opinion. When that occurs, it is in your best interest to challenge a rejection. That can simply be done by resubmitting the ARC with a new cover letter. Before that occurs, consider the following:
- Locate specific language within your governing documents that state otherwise.
- Find out if the ARC meeting notice was properly posted 24 hours prior.
- Gather a list of other homes that have the same improvement you seek.
- Letters of support from the immediate neighbors.
- Mobilize your neighbors. Go to www.RatemyHOA.org and register your HOA. Chances are your HOA is already registered. There you can rate your Homeowner Association and get other members of your HOA to join your cause. There are private and exclusive forums where discussions can take place. What you will find out is if it's happening to you it's happing to others.
- Request that the matter is decided by the Board of Directors and not the ARC.
- Outline any misconduct by the ARC.
- Outline any hardship. If it's medical, there are plenty of non-profit organizations who will advocate on your behalf.
- Seek legal advice. Two great lawyers who represent the homeowner are Peter McGrath and Brent Spain.
From there, write a new cover letter outline the above and resubmit the ARC.
Question: What IF I Already Built My Fence Without Approval?
If the HOA is not knocking on your door, leave the issue alone. Time will be your friend. If the HOA has violated you, the best thing to do is just submit an ARC form. Apologize and simply state you were not aware approval was needed. Read Question: "What do I submit"
Now. If the fence is not in compliance with the governing documents, chance are you will eventually be required to remove the fence. In the meantime, don't stress. Just seek some legal advice.