How to Make Homeowners Association Rules Without Making Enemies
As a member of your community association’s Board of Directors, you know the importance of making rules. The key to association policy making, whether for a condo, townhome or master-planned community, is that rules are clear and sensible. Equally important is for the Board of Directors to be united on the policy at hand and then clearly communicate it to residents. Whether it’s a policy for overnight parking or amenity usage, the process for creating and enforcing it successfully is the same.
First and foremost, everyone involved – from Board members to residents to the management team – must understand who is responsible for the different roles in the process. The association Board, which is elected by the community’s residents, is responsible for establishing any new rules, in compliance with the associations’ governing documents, as well as reviewing and considering modifications from time to time. The Board is also responsible for ensuring that the rules and policies for the community are followed. If the association chooses to hire a professional management company, however, the management company and onsite staff would be tasked with implementing these policies, as well as documenting and enforcing violations. When a new policy is created, it’s a good idea to remind residents of these roles and the reasoning for establishing the new rule in the first place.
Below are eight things to consider so that you can make rules without making enemies.
1. Common sense when rule-making is important.When making rules or reviewing existing rules, ask yourself if the rule is necessary. If it isn’t, then don’t make it, or eliminate it if it is not serving the purpose for which it may have originally been created. You should always strike a balance between resident well-being and homeowner freedom. If the rule creates more problems than already exist, then chances are it is not a good rule. Design new rules or policies with a specific goal in mind. If it doesn’t achieve something, consider why it is being brought up for consideration. To avoid arbitrary policy or political or personal pressure, take a moment to assess whether the new policy is really needed or not.
It’s a good rule of thumb to be mindful of local laws and ordinances when making policy, and mirroring them when appropriate. Not only does it give your policy more validity, it can also give you 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 governing documents,” stated Fernando Dominguez, senior vice president at FirstService Residential.
When creating policy, you want to be sure to keep your penalties for violating policies in line with the policy being violated. You may also want to consider leniency when the rule is first implemented. A progressive system that starts with a friendly reminder, followed by a written warning and then an official violation notice, is generally the best way to go.
2. Simplicity is key.Rules should be easy to understand and follow. Policies should never result in standards that are hard to meet. And of course, always make sure that the penalties for breaking a rule are as clear as the rule itself.
3. Don’t go to extremes.When crafting rules, it is important to maintain perspective. It is often the case that the bigger the problem, the bigger the temptation to write an overly strict rule to address it. Ask yourself if the rule is really solving the problem or just a knee-jerk reaction. The last thing you want is a rule that causes more trouble than the problem it meant to solve. Also be mindful of over-penalizing for minor infractions and keep an open mind when it comes to providing reasonable exceptions.
4. Communicate clearly.Before implementing a new policy, you may want to ask for resident feedback. It’s also a good idea to identify areas of possible pushback. Once consensus has been reached and the rule has been created, the rule should be voted on and adopted as required by the association’s governing documents.
The next step is to communicate the new policy to residents. You can do so through posted signs, community newsletters, emails, social media and other means, to ensure that all residents are aware of the new policy and have ample time to comply. A quality community management company will have a system in place to assist with these vital resident communications.
5. Enforce violations swiftly, fairly and consistently.When enforcing rules, make sure you are consistent and fair. If residents feel like they won’t be treated fairly, then they have very little motivation to comply with the policy. A professional community management company will help you enforce rules the right way and follow up in a timely fashion to make sure that the situation is resolved.
If a resident has violated a policy, provide them with proper written notice along with a clearly detailed description of the consequences for violating the rule. The resident must be given an opportunity to respond to the violation notice, but must follow the process the association has established for doing so. Keep in mind that the resident has the right to seek legal counsel if he feels he is being treated unreasonably.
If your association has failed to enforce policies before, there is no need to worry. It may not be too late to start. Speak to the association’s attorney about the process to follow to revitalize rules and regulations that may not have been enforced for a period of time.
6. The exception IS the rule.It’s important for communities to realize 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. Again, the association’s attorney should be consulted during the adoption and enforcement processes to be sure that there is room for exceptions and that the granting of exceptions does not compromise future enforcement.
7. Beware of the anonymous complaint.People who are willing to stand by their words are usually making credible complaints. If you receive anonymous complaints, you may want to consider them gossip. As a Board member, it is hard to determine if a complaint is justified or malicious without knowing its source. As with any complaint received, it is always best to verify the information before taking action.
8. Do a regular rule check.It’s good practice to evaluate your association policies and rules on an annual basis to make sure they still apply. You also want to confirm that no new legislation has been passed that would make the policy obsolete. Depending on what you find, you may need to make updates or eliminate policies accordingly.
“Rule-making can come with its fair share of challenges, but if you keep these concepts in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing a new policy, you’ll be well on your way to making rules without making enemies,” said Maureen Connolly, vice president at FirstService Residential.
For more information on how a professional management team can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading community association management company.