How to Create Community Policy - Make Rules without Making Enemies
Good rules make good community members. The most important factors in community policy making, whether for a condo, co-op, townhome or master-planned community, are clarity and sensibility. The board must be clear – and united – on the policy being created and then must communicate that policy to all residents. Whether the policy is about overnight guest parking, designated smoking areas, amenity usage or approved flooring, the basic steps to creating good policy and enforcing it successfully are the same.
It’s important that everyone involved, including board members, residents and the management team, understand who is responsible for the various roles that are part of policy creation, enforcement and compliance. At times, residents may misunderstand who is responsible for issuing a violation notice versus creating the policy and establishing the consequences for violating it.
In all cases, the association board, which is elected by homeowners and residents, is responsible for establishing all new rules and policies in the community. However, a knowledgeable community management company can recommend effective and equitable policies to help association boards achieve their goals and build a cohesive, appealing community. A professional management company and onsite staff are responsible for implementing the policies and documenting and enforcing violations. When a policy is created, it’s a good idea to remind all residents of the roles of the various agents in the process and the reasoning for establishing the new rule.
Consider these 8 steps when establishing community policy that makes sense.
1. Common sense during rule-making is important.If a rule isn’t necessary, don’t make it. Make sure that you always balance protecting resident safety and well-being, as well as property values, with homeowner freedom. If the rule creates a bigger problem than already existed, it’s not a good rule. Design new policies and rules with a specific outcome or goal. If a rule doesn’t achieve something concrete, take a look at why it’s being brought up for consideration. Be sure to avoid political or personal pressure and arbitrary policy by taking a moment to reassess the need for a new policy.
When making policy, be mindful of local laws and ordinances and mirror them when appropriate. It can give the policy more validity and another avenue of enforcement. “All new policies should be vetted by association legal counsel to make sure that they don’t run afoul of existing laws or the association’s existing rules,” stated Fernando Dominguez, senior vice president of property management at FirstService Residential.
When crafting rules, remember to keep penalties for violating them in line with the policy being violated and consider leniency for a certain period of time when a rule is first implemented. A progressive system of a friendly reminder, followed by a written warning, then an official violation notice and penalty is one way to go.
2. Simplicity is the word of the day.Rules shouldn’t require a thesaurus to understand, and following them should be easy. Policies should never result in standards that homeowners have to work hard to meet. Make sure that the penalties for breaking a rule are expressed as clearly as the rule itself.
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 about not over-penalizing 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. When implementing a new policy, seek resident feedback: how much does this mean to the community? Identify possible areas of pushback. Once consensus has been built and the policy has been created, the rule may need to be voted on and added to the bylaws and/or the association’s governing documents. “It’s not always the case that rules need to be added to bylaws or covenants,” said Cindy Collins, vice president for community management at FirstService Residential. “In California, for example, if a proposed rule doesn’t conflict with existing bylaws or covenants, the board may adopt it as long as the membership has had at least 30 days’ notice to review it and comment.”
After a consensus has been reached, communicate the new policy through emails, posted signs, social media, community newsletters and other means to make sure that all residents are aware and have ample time to comply before violation notices are issued. A quality community management company, such as FirstService Residential, will have a system in place to assist with these vital resident communications.
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 community management company is there to help enforce rules the right way and follow up on a timely basis to make that sure that the situation is resolved.
Provide the resident who has committed a violation with proper written notice of that violation, along with a clearly detailed description of the consequences. The resident must have an opportunity to respond with their side of the story if desired, following the process already established by the association. 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,” said Maureen Connolly, vice president of property management at FirstService Residential. “Start by sending a notice to residents, always checking with your association legal counsel first, and letting them know that the rules will be enforced beginning on a specific date. Include a reminder of the specific policies that will be enforced and the steps of the violation process.”
6. 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 willing to stand by their words. Think of a complaint from an unverified source or an unnamed source as gossip. You can’t, as a board member, know if the complaint is justified or malicious in motivation; as with any complaint, 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 association policies and rules on an annual basis and make sure 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.
In order to ensure of a smooth process, keep all of these concepts in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing new policy in your association. For more information on how a professional management team and communication tools can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading community.
Now that you’ve learned the basics of good policy and compliance procedures, take it to the next level. Sign up below to download our easy-to-follow infographic to ensure you know who to call when a situation arises, and learn more about how a professional property management company can improve the lives of everyone in your community.