What is a certificate of appropriateness?

If you live in a local historic district, you are bound by a local design review to follow the regulations of the historic preservation commission regarding the external appearance of your home. Any additions or changes you want to make to your home have to comply with the rules.

One of the jobs assigned to the local preservation commission is to issue certificates of appropriateness (COAs). These certificates approve work done on buildings within the historic district. Everything that can be seen from outside the house, including windows, doors, paint colors, materials, rooflines, gutters, fences and yards must receive a COA confirming that it is appropriate and acceptable.


Some homeowners feel that the preservation commissions in their districts go overboard with their regulations. For example, one woman in Philadelphia had to get rid of the planters and trellis in her rose garden [source: Stoiber], and a historic preservation commission in Annapolis, Maryland, demanded that fiberglass columns on one couple's porch be taken down and rebuilt from wood [source: Fuller].

Often, landowners find the COA confusing and don't understand what work requires what kind of documentation. This may lead them to receive heavy fines, or to just not make any changes to their property for fear of being fined.

While preserving the character of a historical district can raise property values (for example, home values in Memphis, Tennessee, are 14 to 23 percent more in historic districts than in non-historic districts), it can also be expensive. High property value means high property taxes, which can drive up prices until homeowners can no longer afford to live in a historic neighborhood. In addition, some districts require the use of historic materials like wood, which can be more expensive than modern ones like vinyl siding.