Written By  Spectrum | Organizing and maintaining a solid improvement request strategy can help an HOA protect property values and increase homeowner satisfaction in the look and feel of their community. However, the wrong property improvement strategy can also be a liability to your association if not managed properly. For example, occasionally it may make sense to allow variances for certain property improvement requests.

While we encourage all variance requests to be handled on a case-by-case basis, there are general guidelines you can follow that will help you determine if it makes sense to grant an individual homeowner’s variance. To help your HOA use its property improvement variance strategy effectively, here are some tips to consider:

Check your CC&Rs for information regarding formal variance requests. Most associations will have a formal variance request form, and legally, you must require your homeowners to use that form in their requests.

Check your state and city statutes. It’s possible that the CC&Rs forbid certain requests because they’re legally restricted in your geographical area. Many cities, for example, restrict homeowners’ right to have lights that illuminate their trees and houses if they live within a certain distance of the city’s airport.

Set up a formal hearing with the homeowner once you receive a variance. While this added layer of bureaucracy may seem unnecessary, this gives more transparency and allows both sides to be fully heard before a decision is made. In order to have a successful meeting, we recommend the following tips:

Be willing to compromise. Many situations involving homeowners go easier if you go into it trying to find a win-win solution. While you may not be able to grant the variance in its totality, see if you can find options that both groups will like and find acceptable.

Be prepared. It can be tricky to know what the other side will discuss, but if you know a hearing is coming up, making sure you have the relevant CC&R, state and local statute, and even previous improvement request history can help make your arguments more cogent and the hearing run more smoothly.

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Embrace kindness. While no one goes into a testy situation intending to be cruel, reminding yourself before the meeting that homeowners feel passionate about their homes and that they may experience feelings of intense frustration at not being able to see their full vision come to fruition can help you meet their frustration with gentleness when pushed.

Used correctly, a hearing is a powerful tool that will enable you to set standards while also encouraging dialogue and transparency within your community.

Grant variances carefully. While demonstrating flexibility can improve homeowner trust and satisfaction with the community overall, the board’s primary responsibility is to protect the community’s overall value, which is primarily driven by the community’s aesthetics. As such, variance requests should not be granted often and when they come up, the request should be carefully reviewed.

Notice variance request trends. If homeowners are asking for the same variance on a regular basis, it might indicate either a hole in the CC&Rs or a change in homeowner preference trends. In this case, revising the CC&Rs may make sense, especially if it is determined that doing so will improve the community’s overall value or lead to an increase in member satisfaction across the community.

Keep a corpus of past precedence. Having a body of work you can point to can help you immensely, especially during hearings. If homeowners can look at past hearing records and see that this type of request is consistently rejected, it may make them understand the board’s position better and lead to a more productive dialogue and future relationship between the member and board.

As an added bonus, keeping a corpus readily available will also allow the board to notice trends in variance requests more easily and will also help you see if the board is being fair and consistent across the board.

Rely on your management company for advice in unusual cases. While most variance requests are clear cut, your association manager will have resources and experience to help guide you in unusual circumstance and can help tweak and improve pre-existing processes.

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