How can your board develop and enforce good HOA policy that’s reasonable, community-friendly and goal-oriented? It starts with the right foundation and perhaps most importantly, a strong communication plan.
The best boards are in tune with their residents to ensure that policies help improve the community or building and enhance the lifestyle experience and property values. They also recognize that the key to happier residents and effective policies is strong communication. That means letting residents know the “why” behind the policy and how it will impact the association.
Here are some proven tips and best practices to ensure that your HOA policies make a positive impact on the association and strengthen your reputation for years to come.
If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: Good HOA policy starts with the right “why.” As a board, make sure you first answer the question, “What’s the purpose behind our policy?” In other words, why was the policy introduced?
Identifying your “why” can be straightforward or it may require a little more time, but it’s critical for effective policy adoption. Before you introduce a new policy, partner with your board, manager and management company to determine why the policy is important and how you will communicate it. A great management company will help you clearly define the purpose of your policy and effectively communicate it to homeowners and residents.
Once you’ve identified the reason for your HOA policy, it’s important to communicate that purpose to homeowners. Help them understand the benefits of instituting this policy and why it will ultimately improve the resident experience and property values.
(Reminder: If you can’t easily communicate the policy to residents, the benefits aren’t clear or it goes against governing documents or local laws, take a step back. Ask yourself, is the policy reasonable, necessary and enforceable? If not, consider reviewing the policy again with your board and management company.)
When you’re communicating the purpose and benefits, keep in mind that a policy should not always be viewed as a limitation on homeowners. In fact, you may want to institute a new rule for the purpose of allowing additional activities or opportunities. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some communities chose to relax restrictions around homes to allow certain activities since major amenities were closed (e.g., some associations relaxed restrictions around basketball backboards and street parking rules).
Kevin Pennington, vice president of community management at FirstService Residential, said, “People are often looking for quality of life and consistency offered by an HOA. When you communicate with residents and have them understand the why behind the particular policy being proposed, that level of understanding leads to greater compliance and agreement.”
A solid management company will have the resources and technologies to communicate effectively to your unique community or building. They will also provide your board and manager with templates and best practices for communications.
As we’ve learned, communication is essential when developing a new policy. It’s also essential to keep residents in the loop for every stage of policy adoption, including how and when it will be enforced. If they don’t understand the process or are in the dark when it comes to the policy process, they may come to a negative conclusion or avoid following the rule.
(Reminder: Don’t skip to this stage if you haven’t explained the purpose and “why” behind your new policy (see Tip #2). By going straight to enforcement, homeowners won’t have a clear picture of why it matters and how it will benefit the community. In turn, they will have less incentive to follow the policy.)
Explain the process of rule creation and enforcement to the membership so that homeowners know what to expect. You may also want to consider giving them a vital role in the process and requesting their feedback before you move forward with a change. Some states have requirements or recommendations in place that include homeowner feedback during the policy development stage.
Even after you’ve communicated the purpose and process of the new policy, make sure you are reinforcing the long-term benefits. Work with your manager and management company on creative ways to communicate the importance of the policy. You may want to consider asking a well-known realtor or subject matter expert to share how a particular rule might increase property values. This should be done on an ongoing basis, so that new homeowners understand the benefits and value as well. A good management company will help you come up with a solid communication plan and strategy to reinforce the benefits with residents and homeowners.
(Remember: Policy development and communication is the board’s job, but your management company should be handling enforcement. It is not your board’s job to personally enforce rules. This can negatively affect your association’s reputation, and it may also lead to liability if not done correctly.)
From policy creation to policy enforcement, the key to effective and reasonable policy is communication every step of the way. When homeowners understand why the association has certain policies and what the benefit of those policies is, it leads to happier residents and a stronger association.
How should your association manage temporary changes to policies when state or local mandates are in place? Watch a complimentary Q&A and webinar, Policy Enforcement in a New Climate.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.