Your board took the time to create a vision for your community. You’ve gotten buy-in from your residents and crafted policies that support it. Now, how do you enforce those policies to ensure that the vision is supported?
It’s a challenge to enforce policy among your friends and neighbors. No one wants to be the bad guy or the stickler in any community. But if you don’t back your policies with common sense enforcement, you may as well not have them. How can you enforce your policies without making enemies in your condo or community? Read on for some professional tips on how to manage policy compliance with as little stress as possible.
Inform your residents.
First of all, when introducing a new policy in your community or condo, make sure that the policy is communicated to everyone in the community and to all new residents as they move in. Explain clearly why the policy is being implemented, what its positive impact is on the community (enhancing property values, increasing safety, improving lifestyles) and the consequences for noncompliance. It takes more than one communication to reach everyone, and you should use all possible channels to do so: newsletters or e-newsletters, social media, your community website, email and postings in common areas.
When new residents join the community, conduct an orientation that explains policies and compliance in your neighborhood. If you partner with a property management company, they will be able to help with that by looking at what has worked in similar communities, and then helping you create a program that works for your residents.
How do you help residents understand any given rule and get on board? “It’s easy! Just explain why the rule was created,” said Jorge Dominguez, regional director in the high-rise division at FirstService Residential. “It usually comes back to the basics of being a good neighbor. If you explain it from that perspective, the residents generally comply.”
Be consistent in your enforcement.
“When enforcing rules, consistency is so important,” explained Joe Padron, regional director at FirstService Residential. “If a board doesn’t consistently enforce policy, they will lose credibility. Don’t create a rule you cannot enforce; that’s a pointless rule.”
Board members should always look to lead by example when it comes to following policy. Doing so establishes goodwill in the community and makes it clear that everyone is expected to abide by the same rules.
One common reason that community associations get sued is discrimination, and often that discrimination charge is rooted in uneven policy enforcement; a resident will naturally feel singled-out if they see neighbors “getting away with” issues that result in violations for them. Those feelings fester and will inevitably have a negative impact on your community; left unaddressed, they will result in gossip and rumors, a loss of reputation for the community and possibly legal action against the association.
Utilize technology for transparent enforcement.
Successful enforcement is facilitated by having the right technology to ensure transparency and consistency, as well as streamline communication. That technology will include features like a mobile app that includes photos of violations in notifications, the ability to auto-populate violation letters with the text of the rule being broken, and the opportunity for management, board members and the violator to view real-time updates to the violation as it is resolved.
How does this benefit you as a board member? When the text of the rules is auto-populated in the application, you know that every resident who gets a violation for parking in the wrong space is getting the exact same language in every letter, which helps with any questions of consistency in enforcement. Having the ability to include photos in the letters helps eliminate pushback from residents when they get a violation letter: the proof is right there. The ability for everyone to see real-time updates allows all involved parties transparency in the process and confirmation that the situation has been satisfactorily resolved.
Make sure that everyone understands how the process works, including how and when fines can be collected and by whom. “You need to establish how enforcement is handled as a community,” Padron said. “Fines should not be the first step, but most communities do have fine schedules. So when we talk about that, I suggest that boards look at what other similar buildings and communities nearby are doing to determine where they stand.”
“It’s important that board members understand the limitations of fining residents,” explained Bradley White, also a regional director at FirstService Residential. “If a board implements a very high fine for breaking a rule, beyond what a court may find acceptable, they may find themselves in legal trouble.”
Conduct an annual policy review.
Communities evolve and circumstances change. A policy that was put in place two or three years ago might not be valid anymore. “One policy that some of our high-rise communities re-evaluate each year is how many renters are allowed to live in the building,” Padron said. “Maybe they have a 25% cap on rentals one year, and for whatever reason, they decide to lower that to 20% or 15%. But they look at it each year and adjust accordingly.”
Review your policies every year, and consult your association attorney when you do. Make sure that the state legislature hasn’t passed any laws that invalidate a policy, and update or remove that policy accordingly, if needed. Make sure that you properly inform and educate everyone in the community if you do make policy changes based on that annual review.
Community associations write policies to make life better for everyone in the community; whether the policy is focused on increasing safety, improving resident lifestyles or enhancing property values, enforcement of that policy must be consistent and transparent. It’s also important to review policies on an annual basis, with legal counsel, and then educate residents about any changes that come about as a result. Doing so will help build harmony in your community and free both the board and management to focus on making your community thrive.
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