11 Do’s and Don'ts of HOA Board Rule Making

Living in a homeowner association (HOA) has many benefits. The right rules when properly balanced can enhance the experience of residents. Too many rules that aren’t well thought out will feel onerous and unnecessary while too few rules can result in disorder.
Your role as an HOA board member encompasses a variety of responsibilities and the decisions you make are not always felt by residents. However, policy creation is the most concrete set of actions the board takes that effects daily interaction between all key stakeholders in a community.
It’s usually the role of the HOA board to create the rules and your property management company is there to help you enforce them. Striking the right balance in your rule making will protect the value of your community, while fostering a feeling of goodwill among residents. Here are some guidelines to help you do that.  
1. Be reasonable. Rules in some sense are in the eye of the beholder. However, asking the simple question whether the rule is necessary is a good starting point. The board should also base rules on the right authority within the community. As a board, you will want to be careful that your rule doesn’t unreasonably limit the activities of residents. Try to strike a balance between protecting freedom with protecting home values and resident safety. 
2. Communication is vital. This applies to all rules but is especially important for new rules. Building awareness will go a long way to easing reservations that is natural with change as well as increase the rate of adoption. Therefore, clear and consistent communication should begin as early as possible before new rules take effect to build consensus. Your management company should be well-versed in this process and leverage all communication tools including newsletters, text and/or email alerts, ResidentAlert automatic calls, and assessment messaging to name a few.
3. Quick and fair action is important. Put yourself in the resident’s shoes for a moment. You’ve broken a rule, most likely unintentionally. What would you expect in terms of notice and next steps? Providing clear communications, a reasonable timeframe to comply, and a description of consequences can go a long way to avoiding escalation. Remember, your residents have the right to legal counsel should they feel they are being penalized unfairly. Proper rules enforcement is an area your homeowner association (HOA) management company should be well-versed in from notification to compliance to resolution. 
4. Simplicity rules the day. Clear, simple rules make everyone’s life easier. Unclear and complicated rules will make compliance difficult, lead to unnecessary questions and often cause friction. This translates into time the board and management team spends on policing rules rather than focusing important board initiatives that bring value to your community. Residents should have the ability to comply and to meet the standards of all rules.  
5. Have a purpose. When creating or modifying rules the board should be able to clearly identify the specific goal or outcome intended by implementing the rule. Bottom line, every rule should achieve something. This is the most effective way to avoid arbitrary rules and those that are the result of political pressure. 
6. Consistency matters. Arbitrary application of rules is one of the quickest ways to cause frustration and angst. It can result in many residents ignoring the rule and boundaries of accepted behavior the board is seeking. If there’s a rule, it applies to everyone...most of the time (see item 7, below).
7. Allow exceptions, when reasonable. No rule can apply to every situation. Be judicious in your enforcement of the rule, and make sure you’ve been lenient when the situation dictates it. Clear communication explaining the purpose for the exception is important. After all, you are setting potential precedence.
8. Dust off and review old rules. Do you have a process in place to regularly review all rules? If not, you should examine rules on a regular basis as time and circumstances change. Do your community rules still apply to the current environment? If not, it’s time to update or eliminate obsolete rules.
9. Seek middle ground. It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and create rules to address a current issue. Be careful to avoid knee jerk reactions and heavy handed rules born from intense emotions and an eagerness to solve problems quickly. Take time to understand that each situation is unique and requires perspective when creating rules. By the same token, don’t inflict heavy penalties for minor infractions. As previously mentioned, be open to making exceptions should the situation warrant it. 
10. Know the source. The source of the complaint matters. A credible complaint will come from a person who is willing to stand behind it. If you get complaints that come from anonymous or unverified sources, your best course of action is to dig deeper and verify before acting.
11. Rules are solutions. Community rules should be designed to solve or avoid issues, not create or exasperate problems.

Rules should work for, not against, your homeowner association. Remember these tips and you’ll find that good rules enhance a community, not limit it. For more on the creation and enforcement of rules, contact FirstService Residential, California’s leading association management company.

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