Want to Enlarge Your HOA Home? Rights and Limitations

Unless you want to risk tearing down your work, check out all HOA rules and regulations about building and expansion before you begin.

By , J.D. · UCLA School of Law

What can you do if you love your home, but it's starting to feel cramped and confined? Normally the answer is, add on, of course! If you live in a planned development, however, enlarging a home involves a bit of extra planning. In addition to dealing with local and state laws (such as building codes and zoning and environmental regulations), you also need to meet all your homeowners' association (HOA)'s requirements.

Find Your Development's Building Requirements

How do you find out what your HOA requires when it comes to constructing an addition? You must study its governing documents. Most developments are governed by a Declaration of Covenants, Conditions, Restrictions, and Easements (CC&Rs), HOA articles and bylaws, and additional HOA rules and regulations. You can obtain a copy from your HOA. Thoroughly review and familiarize yourself with all rules and regulations relating to home construction and modifications.

Depending on your development, the regulations relating to constructing an addition might be basic and easy to abide by, or they might be super-specific and difficult to meet. For example, relaxed rules might require only compliance with state and local laws. Alternatively, strict rules might control everything from the home addition's size, style, height, and color to what kind of fencing and landscaping is required.

Get Permission, If Needed, From HOA Architectural or Building Committees

Most development's regulations relating to home modifications are overseen by the HOA (usually through a special HOA committee, called a "building" or "architectural" committee). Except for minor interior changes, most developments require homeowners to submit plans and obtain HOA approval prior to modifying a home.

You might also need to obtain a permit from the HOA before starting construction. Many HOA review and permitting processes also require owners to pay special review or permit fees.

Can You Expand Your Unit If You Live in a Condominium?

If you own a condominium unit, you could potentially expand by knocking out some common walls to combine two (or more) adjacent units. Your development might prohibit enlarging units, however. Check on this before you purchase a unit with the intent to combine.

Common areas can be especially problematic when attempting to enlarge a condominium unit. Since these areas are owned in common with all other homeowners, condominium regulations commonly prohibit any one owner from modifying a common area. Your condominium unit's floors, ceilings, and exterior walls are all probably considered common areas, as are any shared electrical, plumbing, and heating or air conditioning systems (sometimes found in interior walls). If common area modifications are prohibited, you might need to tweak your expansion plans to avoid these areas.

Abide by Setbacks and Height Limitations

If your home is not a condominium but a townhome or something similar, you must, before finalizing your plans, ensure that the property on which the home sits will accommodate your desired enlargement. This means you must know all applicable setbacks, height restrictions, and size limitations.

Setbacks commonly require a certain amount of space between the home and things such as adjacent roads, property lines, and utilities. You must review your governing documents to ensure that your plans meet all setback requirements (especially since some developments require larger setbacks even than those set out in local building codes).

Height restrictions are also common in developments (particularly developments with nice views). Before planning to "pop up" your home for additional space, check your governing documents for any restrictions on how high you can go.

Dealing With Other Common HOA Building Rules and Regulations

Your development might also regulate the color, appearance, and style of any addition. Many developments require that modifications and additions coordinate with the current home's style, possibly requiring you to use the same color scheme or building materials, for example.

Rules and regulations relating to landscaping are also common. If you plan a major expansion, you will probably need to adapt your current landscaping (which is likely to get damaged during construction). Your development might regulate the type of landscaping, trees, or vegetation allowed, and might require finishing the landscaping within a certain time after the completion of construction.

Additionally, if your home uses a septic rather than a municipal sewer system, check all requirements relating to septic systems (they are generally regulated by state or local laws, but your development might have further restrictions). The size of the septic system on the property could limit your plans for expansion (unless you are prepared to install another septic tank).

In many areas, the size of the home determines what size septic is required. For example, if your property has only a "two-bedroom" septic system, you cannot add a third bedroom to your home.

Follow HOA Rules That Affect the Course of Construction

After you have obtained the necessary approvals and commenced construction, you're still not done with rules and regulations. You must also comply with any requirements relating to construction activities, often for the sake of neighbors.

Again, your development might have its own regulations in addition to any applicable local laws. For example, the governing documents might limit the number and location of trash bins, restrict construction times and noise levels.

Other common rules restrict such things such as use of trailers, portable toilets, or work vehicles on the property, or set maximum time periods for completion of construction.

What Happens If You Violate an HOA Regulation?

Complying with all your development's rules and regulations is a must. Violating any of these, including any relating to architectural or building matters, can mean steep HOA penalties and fines (which could result in liens on your property if left unpaid).

That's not the worst of it: If you construct an addition without prior approval, your HOA might require you to remove it. So make sure your expansion complies with all your development's rules and regulations before you build.

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