Association Policy 101: Make Homeowner Association Rules Without Making Enemies
How can your board make rules that keep everyone happy?
Creating effective association policies that are clear, fair and help improve the resident experience is essential to a healthy association. But it’s no easy task.
Whether you’re developing new rules for a high-rise, condo, townhome or master-planned community, it’s hard to bring every resident on board. Not every person understands the big picture, and in some cases, it may feel inconvenient or unfair. The board of directors needs to be united on their association’s policies. Whether addressing overnight parking, holiday decorations or swimming pool use, successfully creating and enforcing policies requires alignment from the board, clear communication and understanding from residents.
Before jumping into policy creation best practices, let’s get a few basics out of the way. Your board is responsible for establishing any new rules, in compliance with the association’s governing documents, as well as reviewing and considering modifications from time to time. Your board must also ensure that the rules and policies for the community are followed. However, if you partner with a professional property management company, they will be tasked with implementing these policies, as well as documenting and enforcing violations.
With that in mind, here are nine tips that will help you make rules without making enemies.
1. Evaluate rules to ensure they are 100% necessary.
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 problems stemming from a rule outweigh the benefits to your community, chances are it’s not a good rule. Design new rules or policies with a specific goal in mind. If a rule doesn’t achieve something, it may be time for a discussion with your board. To avoid arbitrary policy or political or personal pressure, take a moment to assess whether the new policy is really needed or not.
2. Make sure new rules follow the law and your governing documents.
Always be mindful of local laws and ordinances when making policies and mirror 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.
“FirstService Residential can also help guide the board when it comes to revising existing community guidelines and policies to conform to new laws,” said Jeff Musselman, vice president at FirstService Residential. “When a new member comes on board, they may not understand what considerations may impact new rules. That’s why involving your legal counsel and management company is so important.”
3. Keep your policies simple and easy to follow.
If residents don’t understand how to follow a new policy, they may miss an important detail and risk penalties from not following the rule. Complex rules can also frustrate residents and damage your association’s overall reputation. That’s why it’s imperative to keep your rules 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.
4. Avoid extremes in your policy and in the penalties.
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 is just a knee-jerk reaction. The last thing you want is a rule that causes more trouble than the problem it was meant to solve.
Be mindful of over-penalizing for minor infractions and keep an open mind when it comes to providing reasonable exceptions. Your board should ensure that the penalties for violating policies are 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.
5. Communicate clearly – before, during and after the policy is implemented.
Clear, consistent and thorough communication is the key to strong association policies. And the communication should start before you implement the policy. You may want to ask for resident feedback and 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’ll want to communicate what the policy is, how to follow it and perhaps most importantly, why the policy will ultimately benefit the community as a whole. If residents don’t understand the reasoning behind a new rule, they may be opposed to it right off the bat.
To communicate your policy effectively, you should work closely with your management company to develop a solid rollout plan. You may want to communicate via posted signs, community newsletters, emails, social media or some combination, to ensure that all residents are aware of the new policy and have ample time to comply. FirstService Residential utilizes its proprietary platform FirstService Residential ConnectTM to efficiently distribute communications to residents.
6. Enforce violations swiftly, fairly and consistently.
When enforcing rules, make sure you are consistent and fair. A professional property management company will help you enforce rules without bias 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 residents have the right to seek legal counsel if they feel they are 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 re-establish rules and regulations that may not have been enforced for a period of time. As always, clear communication with the membership is absolutely critical.
7. Remember that 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 exceptions to the rule when appropriate, legal, non-discriminatory, 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 the granting of exceptions does not compromise future enforcement or violate law.
8. 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.
9. 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. Your management company should help you stay on top of local laws and new legislation that may make current policies obsolete. Depending on what you find, you may need to update or eliminate policies altogether.
“Great association policies require a proactive and well-intentioned board, thoughtful communications and consistent enforcement,” said Maureen Connolly, vice president at FirstService Residential. “Without these key ingredients, you may put your association at risk of a poor reputation or even legal troubles.”
For more information on how a professional management team can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading community association management company.