Creating Association Policies Without Making Enemies
Wherever you live—Phoenix, Tucson, Flagstaff or some other part of Arizona—having a great community requires that your homeowners association (HOA) has good rules. Two factors that are crucial for accomplishing this are:
- Clarity. The board must be clear about the value of any policies it wants to create and must communicate these new policies effectively to residents.
- Sensibility. The board must ensure that those policies serve a genuine purpose for the community.
The HOA board, which is elected by the homeowners, is responsible for establishing new rules and policies for your HOA. A knowledgeable community management company can recommend effective and equitable policies to help your board achieve its goals and build a cohesive and appealing community. However, the management company and onsite staff do not actually create those policies. They are only responsible for implementing them, enforcing the rules and documenting violations.
Whether you are addressing overnight guest parking, designated smoking areas, amenity usage or approved flooring, the basic process for creating good policies and enforcing them successfully are the same. Consider these eight steps to establish reasonable community policies that won’t turn your board into the enemy.
1. Apply common sense.
If a rule isn’t necessary, don’t make it. You should always balance property values and resident well-being with homeowner freedom. If the rule creates a bigger problem than the one it resolves, it’s not a good rule. Design new policies and rules for a specific outcome or goal, and make sure the rule achieves something concrete. If it doesn’t, take a look at why it’s being brought up for consideration. Check that you are not being motivated by political pressure, a personal agenda or any arbitrary reasons by taking a moment to reassess the need for a new policy.
Be mindful of local laws and ordinances. Mirror them when appropriate since this can give the policy more validity and provide another avenue of enforcement. All new policies should be vetted by your community manager to make sure that they don’t run afoul of existing laws or the association’s existing rules.
When crafting rules, remember to keep penalties in line with the severity of the violation. Consider leniency for a certain period of time when you first implement a rule. A progressive system that starts with a friendly reminder, followed by a written warning and then an official violation notice and penalty is one way to go.
2. Keep it simple.
The rules—as well as the penalties for breaking them—should not require a thesaurus to understand, and they should be easy to follow. Homeowners should not have to work excessively hard to meet policy standards.
3. Don’t go to extremes.
Knee-jerk responses are called that for a reason: They are an immediate instinct, especially in the face of a big problem. The bigger the problem, the bigger the temptation is to write an overly strict rule that’s going to cause more trouble in the long run. Maintain perspective, be careful not to over-penalize minor infractions (especially for first-time offenders) and be open to reasonable exceptions when warranted.
4. Communicate clearly.
People cannot be held to a standard they don’t know about. Before implementing a new policy or rule, be sure to communicate the change to the membership well in advance of the implementation date.
“It’s not always the case that the bylaws or CC&Rs [Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions] need to be amended, which typically requires a vote of the membership,” says Kirk Kowieski, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Most CC&Rs give the board authority to create policies, rules and regulations by board resolution only.”
Despite the board having this autonomous authority, Kowieski notes that “It’s best practice to be as transparent as possible and to communicate the new policy, rule or regulation to the community at least 30 days in advance of the implementation date.”
5. Enforce violations swiftly, fairly and consistently.
The rules have to apply to everyone and must be fairly enforced. If residents feel like they won’t be treated fairly, they have little motivation to comply with a policy. Your professional management company can help enforce rules the right way and follow up on a timely basis.
Residents who commit violations should receive proper written notice of that violation, along with a clearly detailed description of the consequences. They must have an opportunity to respond with their side of the story if desired, following the process already established by your HOA. Keep in mind that they have a right to legal counsel if they feel they are being treated unreasonably.
If your association hasn’t been enforcing policies at all, it’s not too late! You can revitalize your community and your rules at any point. Start by sending a notice to residents (but run it by your community manager and association attorney first). Let them know that you will begin enforcing the rules on a specific date. Include a reminder of the policies and the process for addressing violations.
6. Remember that the exception IS the rule.
Common sense and compassion both come into play when a community recognizes that not every policy works for every resident in every situation. Leave room for personal judgment when appropriate and reasonable, and allow for leniency if warranted.
7. Beware of the anonymous complaint.
People who make credible complaints are usually willing to stand by their words. Think of a complaint from an unverified source or an unnamed source as gossip. As a board member, you can’t know if the complaint is justified or maliciously motivated. It’s best to verify it independently before taking action.
8. Do a regular rule check.
Does a rule made five years ago still make sense? Take a look at all your policies and rules on an annual basis to ensure that they are still applicable. Check that no new legislation has been passed that may make a rule obsolete. Make updates or eliminate policies as needed.
The process of creating rules and policies will be a smoother one if you keep all of these concepts in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing new policies for your HOA. For more information on how a professional community management team with the right communication tools can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, Arizona’s leading community management company.
Now that you’ve learned the basics of good policy and compliance procedures, take it to the next level. Click here to download our easy-to-follow infographic. It will help ensure that you know who to call when a situation arises and show you how a professional community management company can improve the lives of all your residents.