Almost every Indiana homeowners association and condominium association has a provision in its covenants which requires an owner to submit an application prior to making any exterior changes or additions.
Separate from the homeowners association’s board of directors, most Indiana HOA covenants establish a separate group called the architectural control committee, development control committee, or a similar name. (However, for many homeowners associations, the board of directors serves as this committee.) After the homeowner submits a written application for a new structure such as a room addition or fence, the typical covenants for an Indiana HOA require the committee to respond within 30 days. If that response is in the form of a “conditional approval”, there might be confusion that could lead to a big dispute between the owner and the HOA.
When the homeowners association is responding in writing to an owner’s request, there are three alternatives. The first is to issue a complete and total approval, meaning that the owner’s application is acceptable in all respects. The second is an outright rejection, usually with some specific reasons given by the committee on why the application is being denied. The third (and potentially dangerous) option is for the committee to give the homeowner some sort of conditional approval; in other words, an approval with certain conditions or restrictions. Usually, the committee will write a conditional approval by adding a sentence or two that says something such as, “We approve your proposed fence per your application, so long as you do such-and-such.”
We do not recommend that the HOA’s committee issue a conditional approval. Rather, we recommend that the written response to an owner should simply be “Approved” or “Denied”. Either approve the application as submitted, or reject it outright. Whenever a conditional approval is given, the committee will list certain conditions which are intended to be satisfied by the homeowner. Unfortunately, those sorts of conditional approvals often result in a dispute. Perhaps the homeowner truly did not understand the conditions and he or she went ahead with their construction project. Such a misunderstanding may have been caused by the wording used by the committee. Another possibility is that the homeowner fully understood the added conditions, but stubbornly went ahead under the assumption that his or her project was “close enough” so that the homeowners association would not challenge it, even if the extra conditions are not met.
If the HOA’s response form only has a place to either approve or reject the application, and if an owner’s request is not completely acceptable, the committee can list the specific reasons for a rejection. For example, the committee could indicate that the application is being rejected because the requested change would be the wrong color, too tall, etc. The rejection can then state that if the owner wishes to resubmit plans for approval, the committee will review them again and either approve or reject them. The end result is that the HOA’s committee will issue to the homeowner a simply stated approval or denial, thus leaving little room for error or confusion. Again, this sort of a procedure should eliminate many disputes that can arise after the homeowner has completed a project, potentially at great expense.