Don’t Be the HOA Bad Guy: 4 Proven Policy Enforcement Tips
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“How can we enforce policies in a way that is fair, polite and doesn’t make us the ENEMY?”
Enforcing HOA policies is nobody’s cup of tea, but having good policy enforcement in place not only helps your association run smoothly, but can improve the overall resident experience and elevate your reputation among neighboring communities.
First things first … make sure your policies are right for your community and reflect your association’s vision. Start here: Before Creating a New HOA Policy, Ask These 5 Questions.
After you’ve created a great policy, how can you ensure compliance (without becoming the bad guy)? The good news is that the task of policy enforcement shouldn’t fall entirely on your shoulders. Ultimately, it’s your management company’s job to enforce the rules. But with that in mind, it’s important to partner with your HOA management company and follow these 4 principles for healthy policy enforcement:
As mentioned in our policy creation piece, communication and education is key when it comes to compliance. Make sure that everyone in your association (including new residents) knows the what, how and (most importantly) why of your policy:
Policy Enforcement Tip #1: EDUCATE
- What is the policy? Explain what the policy is and what it does. For example: Our association has now adopted a no smoking policy. Smoking is no longer permitted in common areas.
- How do we follow the policy? Explain what residents need to do (or not do) in order to follow the policy. For example: All homeowners, residents and guests must not smoke cigarettes, cigars or any tobacco product (including e-cigarettes) in common areas or within 100 feet of residences.
- Why is this policy important for the association? Reinforce the policy’s benefits and what it will do to help or improve your community going forward. For example: Having a no smoking policy in place will enhance the resident experience (individuals will be exposed to less secondhand smoke) and improve our reputation with potential buyers, therefore enhancing our property values.
Work with your management company to distribute this message. They can help you utilize multiple channels, including newsletters, social media, your community’s website, emails and announcements in common areas. You should also develop an orientation guide that will educate new residents on your policies, helping avoid confusion.
Consistent and fair policy enforcement is key to ensuring that your HOA doesn’t become the enemy with residents and owners. No one wants to be a part of an association where certain residents or board members get special privileges when it comes to observing policies. This practice can create bitterness among other residents and soil your reputation in the community at large. In the worst cases, it can even result in discrimination lawsuits.
Policy Enforcement Tip #2: STAY CONSISTENT
So how do you ensure consistent policy enforcement? Start with these simple do’s and don’ts:
- DO: Lead by example. If you expect residents to follow a policy, you should do the same. Volunteer board members are not exempt from the rules.
- DON’T: Change your rules based on circumstances or individuals. While it may appear to make things easier in the short term, it can create problems in the long term.
- DO: Enforce policies when rules are violated. If residents assume they’ll be able to get away with breaking the rules, they will. Make sure you are enforcing policies according to a process set in place (see BE TRANSPARENT below).
Your method of policy enforcement shouldn’t come as a surprise to members of your association. In addition to understanding the what, how, and why of the policy itself, residents should also understand what happens (and what to do) when a policy is violated. They should also understand what the potential fines will be and how they will be collected. Do you have a transparent enforcement process in place? Here’s an example of what that looks like:
Policy Enforcement Tip #3: BE TRANSPARENT
- Step 1: Individual in violation of a policy receives a courtesy call explaining the details of the situation and the policy that was violated.
- Step 2: Individual receives a violation letter, providing details on the policy and the offense as well as any fines required.
- Step 3: If individual does not respond after a period of time, a second violation letter is sent.
- Step 4: Upon refusal to comply after three communications, issue will be escalated to association attorney or violation committee for next steps.
It’s important to note that your process may differ from the above based on best practices, different communication methods and local laws. For instance, according to California’s Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act recommends that “a schedule of monetary penalties be included as part of a general enforcement policy.” That way, boards will have a schedule in place to provide guidance when an individual violates a policy. This helps ensure consistency and fairness. Work with your management company to ensure that you are abiding by best practices and in accordance with your governing documents and local laws.
Even if you have a strong community vision in place, things change. The policies that your association had in place 5 years ago, may not be relevant anymore. That’s why it’s important to review your HOA policies on an annual basis. When reviewing policies, work with your association attorney and management company and ask the following questions:
Policy Enforcement Tip #4: EVALUATE
- Has California state legislature passed any laws that invalidate this policy?
- Does this policy improve resident lifestyles and/or enhance our reputation?
- Will this policy become outdated in the next year or two?
- Does this policy remain relevant for residents and owners?