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Association requiring owner to upgrade roof to match aesthetic changes

Workers install a new roof on a house. (iStock)
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Q: Where can I find information about the power of homeowners’ associations? Can an association force me to replace a perfectly good roof because they want me to upgrade to their new favorite roof style of shingles?

It is my responsibility to repair the roof. But having me pay more than $10,000 for a new roof simply because they have changed their aesthetics seems ridiculous. I am sure this sort of thing was not addressed in the documents I signed when I bought the townhouse.

A: We agree. It seems quite odd (not to mention wasteful) that a homeowners association would require owners to replace their roofs solely for aesthetic reasons.

Start your search for information with a reading of the governing documents for your homeowners association. Those documents assign the rights to the association’s managers to operate the homeowners association and to set up rules and regulations for all of the owners in the association.

We do want to distinguish between condominium associations and homeowners associations. In many condominium associations, the structures are maintained by the association, and it has the right to make improvements to the buildings on behalf of all of the owners.

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In an association of single-family homes or townhouses, the association may set rules and regulations regarding the aesthetics of the association for future construction and for the upkeep of lawns. What we don’t know is which part of your association documents gives the association the right to require owners to make changes to their homes when those homes are not in need of repair.

We can imagine situations where an association could require structural changes to homes for safety reasons. Let’s say you live in an area prone to fires. And, your homeowners association wanted to make changes to protect all homeowners from fires that could destroy the entire community. Changing roof tiles to those that offer greater protection from fires might be a smart move for the entire association. Life, health and safety changes might be well within the charter of the association.

But what about aesthetics? If the association has the power to compel change for aesthetic purposes, it should be spelled out in the association’s governing documents. If the board of managers has that specific right, you might have no choice other than to write a check and comply. But if they don’t? Feel free to point that out.

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The association board can insist that all roof replacements going forward must abide by the association’s new requirements. That’s likely within their rights. They can also pass rules relating to the choice of paint colors, type of exterior improvements, the height and size of fences, the locations of landscaping, the manner in which homes must be maintained, among many other matters.

Assuming the board’s requirement is solely for aesthetic purposes, we’d hope they would recognize the costs involved and allow homeowners to phase in the change as their roofs need replacement. We understand it might take quite some time (five, 10 or even 15 years) for the change to take place. But when it comes to a significant expense, it feels wrong to compel homeowners to make a change that is not needed today.

If the documentation is inscrutable, you might have to hire a local real estate attorney with experience with associations to provide clarity and insight as to your legal (and other) options.

Ilyce Glink is the author of “100 Questions Every First-Time Home Buyer Should Ask” (Fourth Edition). She is also the chief executive of Best Money Moves, an app that employers provide to employees to measure and dial down financial stress. Samuel J. Tamkin is a Chicago-based real estate attorney. Contact them through the website, BestMoneyMoves.com.

©2022 Ilyce R. Glink and Samuel J. Tamkin. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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