J. Patrick Sutton Cases & Issues Blog

The cruelty of architectural control committees

In Texas, developers who have a concept or a vision how a subdivision ought to look empower "architectural control committees" (ACC's) to continue reviewing architectural plans after the developer leaves. These committees are, with increasing frequency, deeply hostile and abusive to the very homeowners whom they are supposed to serve.

The problem is that developers make a ton of money doing what they do, while ACC's are just homeowners who volunteer their time. Who is going to volunteer gobs of time to reviewing architectural plans and deciding whether the plans are "harmonious" with the rest of the subdivision? My views on this are well-known: it's an invitation for busy-bodies, control freaks, and people with axes to grind. And as the world changes to connected-homes and different kinds of living arrangements, ACC members become intransigent, standing in the way of innovation and necessary change. To take just one example, before the Legislature intervened a few years ago, ACC's would routinely refuse to allow rainwater storage systems and solar power panels. And boy, did they hate it when they could no longer forbid them, though, it should be said, they still find ways to make it hard for owners to get them approved. Sigh.

Texas law makes the problem worse, actually. The Property Code gives ACC's broad discretion in rejecting building plans, and courts often assume that HOA's and ACC's a pass on almost anything they want to do to other homeowners. It is understandable that a developer had a concept or vision, but what is not understandable is the often gratuitous pettiness and intransigency of volunteers who seize control of ACC's long years after the developer leaves the scene. Yes, the job is thankless, and Yes, there are many perfectly fine and even excellent ACC's. But that's because enough people rise above temptation to make it work. This process should never have been left to unpaid volunteers without credentials. The whole scheme is an invitation to abuse. And it's not as if home buyers have a meaningful choice — most new subdivisions in the state are now architecturally controlled. Developers want to sell a concept, understood; but the whole notion that it will be executed, ultimately, by your neighbors, seems to me fundamentally misguided.

But, as with so many bad things, good for the lawyers.
J. Patrick Sutton Cases & Issues Blog