You really want a nice, new fence, one that will keep your children safe, allow your dog to run free, and complement your lovely landscaping. But your homeowners' association (HOA) has some rules about it. How to start?
Do Your Homework
Start by carefully reading the HOA-published covenants, conditions, and restrictions (CC & R), looking for restrictions concerning fines (eg, height, colors, materials allowed). If allowed, you will likely need pre-approval from your community's architectural committee. Attend HOA meetings to acquaint yourself with board members and the tone of the meetings. Face-to-face interaction can make a difference during the approval process.
Follow the rules, or you could end up having to pay fines or remove your recently installed fence. If errors are prohibited, resist any advice to “beg forgiveness” rather than ask permission, or you may find yourself in the HOA spotlight, and not in a good way.
Be aware that just because your neighbor has a similar fence, this does not mean it will be OK. Rules may have changed, or decisions may have been made by a different board.
Speaking of neighbors, speak to your neighbors! It could help that they approve, and maybe one or more of them will help split the cost. However, if a neighbor is not on board (maybe they do not like a certain fence, or think it will affect their property value), it can make the process more difficult. Either way, it's good to know what you may be up against.
Finally, find a reputable fencing contractor that can help plan options for fence types, colors, sizes, materials, and design. Ask lots of questions when getting your estimate – they may know about property lines, zoning laws, or permits not covered in the CC & R. Ask if they have any recent experience with construction within your HOA.
Submit Your Plans
Just because fines are not specifically prohibited or restricted does not mean they will be acceptable. It's smart (and usually required) to get pre-approved before you begin construction.
It's not up to your fencing company to check with your HOA. But if you found the right company, their advice, drawings and pictures should help with your plan submission.
Submit your request to the HOA architectural committee, clearly and in writing. You can include additional reasoning about the benefits of fencing, or how your fencing will benefit the neighborhood. If by-laws are not clear, ask for clarification.
Put Your Best Foot Forward
Hopefully your HOA has reasonable board members rather than arbitrary or punitive ones, but always err on the side of caution. Learn how to deal with your HOA. Expect that there may be questions, take a breath, and be respectful when you voice your opinion. Remember that you catch more flies with honey than vinegar! Find out how long approval normally takes to ensure your request is being considered in a timely manner.
Do not Forget to Follow Up
If you do not hear back as expected, do not assume you are good to go. Get the approval in writing. Be diligent in communicating for a response, either by phone or in person.
Be prepared for the possibility of a rejection. If there's a detail that needs clarification, do it quickly. If it's a larger objection, it can be extremely difficult to access published restrictions, unless you are prepared to vote for a new board, help change your CC & R, or brace for a legal battle.
But with good planning and a little luck, you'll be enjoying your new fence in no time!