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Should the Association Hire an Architect to Review Architectural Review Committee Requests?

A lot of Associations ask about best practices related to the use of architects to help an architectural review committee (ARC) review project submittals. More specifically, they’re asking how an architect consultant should interact with the Board when an owner submits a project for the ARC to review.

Here, we back up and ask whether it’s permissible to get a third-party architect involved and what exactly a consulting architect can and shouldn’t do. Plus, who pays for that consultant’s services?

Let’s start with the fundamental question: Is the architect necessary or just helpful?

Remember, most requests don’t rise to the level that you need architectural review. Generally, you want an architect for new construction or large additions. But not something in the nature of putting in a deck. This is especially true in more technical areas. Say for instance, meeting setback requirements. This is something you definitely would want an expert to review and approve. When mistakes are made in these areas, it’s hard to unwind once construction starts.

Very often you want an architect to review and approve the plans when it’s a condominium unit. Because very often changes in a condominium are actually structural changes, and may involve penetrating common elements. In that case, you definitely want an architect to review the plans.

But remember, you’re only consulting with the architect. The Board still has the duty to make decisions. You’re not delegating that duty.

The Board should rely on the advice of experts, and there may be times when the architect says the proposed changes aren’t going to affect the integrity of the building. But there may still be other reasons not to approve an application, like when it causes increased maintenance or noise, such as if you were to install an air-conditioning unit on the balcony. The architect’s opinion isn’t gospel. There could be aesthetic concerns that the ARC would still rely on to deny an application.

When it comes to costs, be sure to check your governing documents as to who pays those costs. The Association or the applicant? It’s not always going to be clear who pays for that architectural consultant. And you want to be transparent about those costs. You want to be very clear who’s paying for that cost before you incur them. You want the Association to say that when you’re doing significant renovations, the Board will impose the consulting fees on the applicant.