Aesthetic Conflicts Dealing With the Eyesore Next Door

Attractiveness and so-called ‘curb appeal’ are both vital to a building or HOA’s sense of community pride and overall value. After all, it’s hard to attract prospective homebuyers if your association’s grounds are scattered with litter, the flower beds are choked with weeds, and residents constantly have laundry hanging out their windows. 

As important as they are, however, matters of taste can be some of the most hotly debated aspects of multifamily administration. Not everyone shares the same aesthetic sensibilities—and not everyone roots for the same football team, as will become clear.

Play by the Rules

The right of a unit owner to modify their exterior spaces are generally laid out in the rules and regulations of the building or association. These rules are neither cryptic nor surprising; they’re in the package of documents buyers receive during the purchasing process, and it’s their responsibility to understand them before closing the deal and moving in.

“By virtue of buying into a community association, you become a party to a contract – that contract being the association’s declaration,” says Nicholas Bartzen, an attorney with Levenfeld Pearlstein, LLC, in Chicago. “And that contract stipulates what you are and are not allowed to do. If you really want to paint your townhouse green and gold because you love the Green Bay Packers, you should be buying a single-family home. Because when you bought a townhouse in the ‘XYZ Association,’ you became party to a contract.” 

In that contract, of course, are (probably) rules that prohibit Packers colors and a host of other things. “If you’re in breach of your duties under that contract, the association can take action, which includes lawsuit, fines, and fees – or sometimes just remediating the violation and charging those fees back to you,” Bartzen continues, “i.e., painting the house taupe or beige to cover over the Packer colors. So when unit owners go cowboy, they have to realize that the contract to which they’re bound gives the board a lot of power to remediate the issue.”

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