How Enforceable Are Those Architectural Guidelines?

We frequently get questions from our clients and their managers asking about enforcement of architectural guidelines, and particularly, the ability to either require a homeowner to obtain architectural review committee approval before making improvements, or alternatively, requiring a homeowner to remove improvements already made without committee approval. While there is no universal answer, there are some generalities.

First, all answers are subject to the provisions of the Association’s governing documents – the restrictive covenants, the articles of incorporation, bylaws, any architectural guidelines (or similar documents such as design guidelines). Assuming that these documents support a requirement that members obtain approval, we then look to the provisions of Colorado law.

Colorado courts have generally held that restrictive covenants that require approval of a committee are enforceable as long as the restriction is clear, and even though the restriction itself lacks specificity. However, along with such enforceability is the corollary that refusal to approve plans must be reasonable and in good faith, and not arbitrary or capricious. In other words, all members should be held to the same standard, and those standards should be reasonable.

The question often posed is “What if we don’t have architectural guidelines?” If there is a requirement in the restrictive covenants that requires committee approval, then approval must still be obtained. However, it is much easier to demonstrate that approval, or disapproval, is not arbitrary or capricious if there are guidelines established that were followed by the committee.

One overriding principle governing requests for approval is “be reasonable.”