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Your Florida HOA: Spotlight on unpermitted improvements

The HOA didn't approve that beautiful new patio.

Your Realtor® just showed you the perfect house: four bedroom and three baths on a tree-lined street with house-after-house of manicured lawns. The owners even recently extended the back patio, enclosed it, and made it into a sunlit playroom.

You want to make an offer. But you see from the owner’s disclosure statement two things that seem curious: your perfect house is within a residential development governed by a homeowners’ association, and the recent back patio extension and enclosure was permitted by the City.

Why are these red flags? Because in most cases, the owner would be required to get the association’s approval as well.

Do you have to pass on your perfect house?

Not necessarily. You’ll need to get more background and information to make your decision.

Don’t panic.

The homeowners’ association’s main role is to protect property values in the neighborhood. That means keeping people from running a casino out of their garage or parking thirty broken-down cars in their front yard. And remember, the association’s board of directors is made up of neighborhood volunteers: it’s a thankless job and they no more want to be in conflict than the homeowners.

Here’s what you can do.

First: get a copy of the Declaration of Covenants and Restrictions. Your real estate attorney can access these from the county’s public records. Or ask the Seller for a copy. Or call the association directly.

Second: review the Declaration. Look for a restriction that talks about alterations to the exterior of the home. Most Declarations will create an Architectural Control Committee—the ACC—or something similar. These committees are formed to review and approve exterior changes to a home. Sometimes the ACC will grant a request for a porch enclosure with conditions, sometimes it will deny it. Sometimes it will grant a variance, giving the homeowner special permission to build without allowing everyone else to do the same. The ACC has written parameters and you should be able to see what those are.

Third: ask the Seller what happened. Maybe the Seller didn’t feel approval was necessary because three other neighbors did the exact same improvement. Or maybe the Seller requested approval but the ACC never responded.

Fourth: ask the association. The association may have a file that will give you more information. You can then work with your attorney on a game plan. If the patio fits with it the exterior building profile in the neighborhood, the patio may be in compliance already. If the association completely dropped the ball and failed to respond to the Seller's request to approve the patio, the association may be unable to do anything about the patio now. Or maybe the association will agree to a variance now since the patio is so beautiful and adds to the neighborhood's property values. Point is: get the facts.

Fifth: work with your team. Allow your attorney to recommend a path forward. Work with your Realtor® and a contractor on a cost-estimate for to bring the home into compliance with the Declaration. Your Realtor® can help you negotiate a purchase price with that cost in mind.

The perfect house can be your perfect house, even if it has some flaws.

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