When it comes to architectural applications, timing is everything. Owners are often on tight deadlines with regard to obtaining permits and hiring contractors. Weather may be a major factor, with rain or snow limiting the months in which certain types of construction can take place. The appearance of unnecessary delay leads to disputes. For these reasons, and others, everyone needs to know and understand the timeline and deadlines involved in architectural applications.
One of the most important dates to determine is when an architectural application is complete. This date is important because it triggers the beginning of the time period in which a Board must consider and decide upon an application. If you have Architectural Rules, the list of items required for a complete application makes a handy checklist. Don’t just glance over the submitted documents and make a cursory determination that the application is complete. For example, if the application is for a rooftop solar energy system and it doesn’t include detailed information regarding how the panels are attached to the roof and a solar site survey, then it is not complete. If the application is not complete for any reason, it must be returned to the owner with that explanation. Once you’ve accepted the application and considered it, rejection on the basis that it is not complete will be much harder to argue (although not impossible).
Some types of applications have special deadlines for a decision once a complete application is submitted. For example, some CC&Rs have “hammer” deadlines included in them, i.e., a section that says something like “if the Board/Architectural Committee doesn’t decide upon an application within 60 days, the application is deemed approved.” This kind of “deemed approved” hammer makes future enforcement much more challenging because a community may have noncompliant components installed which were installed “legally” not because they comply with the architectural standards of the community but because a volunteer architectural committee couldn’t decide on the application within an arbitrary period of time. If you have a “deemed approved” clause in your CC&Rs for general architectural applications, we highly recommend that you amend your documents to remove it at the first reasonable opportunity. A clause stating that architectural applications not decided upon within a certain period of time may proceed to IDR or ADR is much fairer to the volunteer board and committee and to all owners in the community as well.
Note also that some kinds of architectural applications have special statutory deadlines for consideration or are “deemed approved”, e.g., 45 days for solar energy systems (Civil Code section 714) and 60 days for electric vehicle charging stations (Civil Code section 4745(e)). Special care must be taken before determining that an application is “complete” because such determination starts the clock on the strict statutory deadline for these particular types of applications.