Association Policy: Why Communication Is Key
How can your board develop and enforce good association policy that’s reasonable, community friendly and goal oriented? It starts with the right foundation and perhaps most importantly, a strong communication plan.
The best boards are in tune with their residents to ensure that policies help improve the community or building, tie into the community vision and enhance resident lifestyles and property values. They also recognize that the key to happier residents and effective policies is strong communication. That means communicating the “why” behind new and existing policies and clearly explaining how they will impact the association.
Follow these steps to ensure that your policies make a positive impact on the association and are clearly understood by the community’s residents:
Step #1: Identify the “why” behind the policy.
If you don’t remember anything else, remember this: Good policy starts with the right “why.” As a board, make sure you first answer the question, “What’s the purpose behind our policy?” In other words, why was the policy introduced?
- Did it come about because of multiple homeowner complaints?
- Has a new law or ordinance come up in your area that requires new or updated policy?
- Will this policy prevent or mitigate potential liability in the community or building?
Identifying your “why” can be pretty straightforward or it may require a little more digging, but it’s critical for effective policy adoption. Before you introduce a new policy, partner with your fellow board members, manager and management company to confirm that the policy is important and needed in the community.
Step #2: Communicate the purpose and benefits.
Once you’ve identified the reason for your policy, it’s important to communicate that purpose to homeowners. Help them understand the benefits of instituting this policy and why it will ultimately improve the resident experience and property values. Lean on your management company to help you effectively communicate it to homeowners and residents.
(Reminder: If you can’t easily communicate the policy to residents, the benefits aren’t clear or it goes against governing documents or local laws, take a step back. Ask yourself if the policy is reasonable, necessary and enforceable. If it's not, consider reviewing the policy again with your board and management company.)
When you’re communicating the purpose and benefits, keep in mind that a policy should not always be presented as a limitation on homeowners. In fact, you may want to institute a new rule for the purpose of allowing additional activities or opportunities. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, some communities chose to relax restrictions around homes to allow certain activities since major amenities were closed (e.g., some associations issued more lenient rules around street parking).
Because of FirstService Residential’s depth of resources and proprietary technology such as FirstService Residential ConnectTM, associations can communicate instantly with residents to share important information via email, text and website updates. Associations that partner with FirstService Residential can also access templates and resources to help them craft messaging that clearly communicates the purpose and benefits of a policy.
Step #3: Explain the process, from development to enforcement.
As we’ve learned, communication is essential when developing a new policy. It’s also essential to keep residents in the loop through every stage of policy adoption, including how and when it will be enforced. If they don’t understand the process or are in the dark when it comes to the policy process, they may come to a negative conclusion or resist following the rule.
(Reminder: Don’t skip to this stage if you haven’t already explained the purpose and “why” behind your new policy (see Step #2). By going straight to enforcement, homeowners won’t have a clear picture of why it matters and how it will benefit the community, which means they might be less inclined to follow the policy).
Explain the process of rule creation and enforcement to the membership so that homeowners know what to expect. You may also want to consider giving them a vital role in the process and requesting their feedback before you move forward with a change. Some states have requirements or recommendations in place that include homeowner feedback during the policy development stage.
Step #4: Reinforce the long-term benefits and value.
Even after you’ve communicated the purpose and process of the new policy, make sure you are reinforcing the long-term benefits. Work with your manager and management company on creative ways to communicate the importance of the policy. This should be done on an ongoing basis, so that new homeowners understand the benefits and value as well. You may want to add reminders to a monthly newsletter, post friendly notices in common areas or send a quick email. Let residents know that their work in following policies always pays off. Even policies as simple as putting trash cans away on a certain day of the week or using designated visitor parking spots can enhance your reputation in the community at large and even improve property values. A good management company will help you devise a solid communication plan and strategy to reinforce the benefits with residents and homeowners.
(Remember: Policy development and communication is the board’s responsibility, but your management company should be supporting you on enforcement. It is not the board’s job to personally enforce rules. This can negatively affect your association’s reputation, and it may even lead to liability if not done correctly.)
The Key to Great Policy: Communication
From policy creation to enforcement, the key is clear and thorough communication. When homeowners understand why the association has certain policies and what the benefits of those policies are to them and the community at large, it leads to happier residents and a stronger association.