Cohesive policies help make happy communities. The most important factors in making good policy in a community association, regardless of the issue being addressed, are clarity and sensibility. The board must be clearly united on the policy being created, the reasons why it’s being created and communication of that policy to all residents. Whether you live in the beautiful wooded areas around Bear, near the lovely downtown of Middletown or in a homeowner association on the shoreline at Rehoboth Beach, the basic steps to creating good policy and enforcing it successfully are the same.
Sometimes, homeowners may not be clear on whose responsibility it is to create a policy versus issuing the violation notice for breaking it. All of the players involved, including board members, residents and the management team, must understand who is responsible for the various actions involved in policy creation, enforcement and compliance.
The association board, which is elected by residents and homeowners, is always responsible for establishing all new rules and policies in the community. The board may rely on its knowledgeable community association management company to recommend effective and equitable policies to help the board achieve its objectives. The professional management company and its staff are responsible for implementing the policies created by the board, as well as documenting and enforcing violations. When a policy is created, use the communication of the policy to remind all residents of the roles of the various agents in the process, as well as the reasoning for the new rule.

Here are eight tips for making great policy in your association.


1. Remember that moderation is key to making good policy.

It’s human nature to react strongly in the face of an issue. The bigger the issue, the greater the temptation is to write an overly strict rule in response, but that will likely cause more trouble in the long run. Keep perspective, take care not to excessively penalize small infractions (especially for first-time offenders) and be open to reasonable exceptions when warranted.

2. Make sure you’re communicating clearly.

While considering any new policy, ask residents for their input: how much does this mean to the community? Find areas of possible pushback and address them. 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. Check with your association attorney if you have any questions about how to make sure that the policy is implemented correctly.
Once the community has reached a consensus, the board must communicate the new policy through all available means: posted signs and flyers, social media, community newsletters and email. Residents need to be aware and have enough time to comply before violation notices begin to be issued. People cannot be held to a standard they don’t know about. A quality community association management company, such as FirstService Residential, will have a system available to assist with these crucial communications.

3. Keep it simple.  

Following the rules should be easy, and they shouldn’t require a thesaurus to understand. If it is difficult for homeowners to meet a standard set by a new policy, it’s not a good policy. Explain the penalties for violating the policy as clearly as the policy itself is set forth.  

4. Let common sense 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. If the rule creates a bigger problem than already existed, it’s not a good rule. If a rule isn’t necessary, don’t make it. Be sure to avoid political or personal pressure by taking a moment to reassess the need for a new policy. Make sure that you always balance protecting homeowner freedom with resident safety and well-being, as well as property values.
When making policy, keep local laws and ordinances in mind; mirror them when appropriate. It can give the policy more validity and another avenue of enforcement. All new policies should be vetted by the association’s attorney to make sure that they don’t run afoul of existing laws or conflict with the association’s existing rules.
Make sure that you keep penalties for violating rule in line with the policy being violated and consider leniency for a 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.

5. Enforce violations consistently and fairly.

Your professional community association management company is there to help enforce rules the right way and follow up to make that sure that the situation is resolved, if needed. The rules have to apply to everyone in the community, and they must be enforced fairly. If residents feel like they won’t be treated consistently or fairly, they have little motivation to comply with a policy.
Provide the resident who has committed a violation with proper written notice of that violation, along with a clearly detailed description of the consequences, as detailed in the association’s governing documents. The resident must have an opportunity to respond if desired, following the process already put in place by the association. Keep in mind that they have a right to legal counsel if they feel they are being treated unreasonably.  
If your community has been lax on policy enforcement, you can fix that easily. To revitalize your community and your rules, check with your association legal counsel first. Send a notice to residents, and let them know that policy enforcement will begin on a certain date. Include a reminder of specific policies that are of concern (Smoking in the wrong areas? Pool use after hours?) and details of how the violation process works.

6. Leave room for exceptions.

There’s no perfect world in which every policy can apply to every resident in every situation. Both compassion and common sense are part of the equation when we recognize that. Allow room for personal judgment when appropriate, and for leniency if reasonable and warranted.

7. Check on your rules annually.  

Take a look at the policies and rules in your association every year. Are they all still necessary? Are they still applicable? Does a rule made five years ago still make sense?  Check that no new legislation has been passed that may make a rule obsolete. Eliminate or update policies as needed.

8. Be wary of anonymous complaints.

Think of a complaint from an unverified source or an unnamed source as gossip. There’s no way to gauge the justification or motivation of any anonymous complaint. As with all complaints, investigate independently before taking any action. Consider creating a complaint form that states that a complaint must have contact information attached to it in order be to seen as valid.
To make the process easy on everyone, keep these concepts in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing new policy in your community association. For more information on how a professional management team and communication tools can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, Delaware’s leading community management company.
Tuesday October 25, 2016