Tips for Making Rules Without Making Enemies
As a Board member, you know the importance of making rules and establishing policy. The key is to make sure your rules are clear and sensible. You also want to ensure that all members of the Board are a united front when it comes to the policy before clearly communicating it to your residents. Whether it’s a policy for amenity usage or overnight parking, the process for creating and enforcing rules successfully is the same.
To start, everyone involved – Board members, residents, and the management team – must understand who plays what role in the process.
The association Board is responsible for establishing any new rules, in compliance with the associations’ governing documents, as well as reviewing and considering modifications to existing policies. The Board is responsible for enforcing the rules and policies for the community as well. However, if the association hires a professional management company, the management company and onsite staff would implement these policies and enforce violations. A good rule of thumb when establishing a new policy is to remind residents of these roles, as well as explain the reasoning behind the new rule.
Here are eight simple tips to help you make rules without making enemies.
1. Use common sense when rule-making.
First things first, when reviewing existing rules or making new ones, ask yourself if the rule is necessary. If it isn’t, then don’t make it or eliminate it if it no longer serves its original purpose. In rule-making, it is important to find a happy balance between resident well-being and homeowner freedom. If the rule causes more problems than originally existed, then it many not be a good rule. When designing new rules or policies, always have a goal in mind. If the rule doesn’t accomplish anything, ask yourself why it is being considered. To avoid personal and political pressure, always take a moment to assess if the new rule is truly needed.
When creating rules, be mindful of local laws and ordinances that come into play, and if possible, mirror them when appropriate. This will give your policy more validity and also another avenue for enforcement. New policies should also be reviewed by the association attorney to make sure they do not conflict with existing laws or governing documents.
You also want to be make sure that the penalties you are establishing for violating these policies are in line with the policy. When rules are first implemented, leniency is important. A progressive system is generally the best way to go. For example, start with a friendly reminder, then follow it up with a written warning, and then an official violation notice.
2. Keep it simple.Keeping it simple goes a long way in rule-making. Not only should the rules be easy to understand and follow, but they should never result in standards that are difficult to meet. The consequences for breaking the rules should be just as clear as the rules themselves.
3. Don’t go to extremes.It is important to maintain perspective when creating policy. Oftentimes, the bigger the issue, the bigger the temptation to write an overly strict rule to address it. Before addressing the issue, ask yourself if the rule is solving the problem. What you want to avoid is a rule that causes more trouble than the problem it meant to solve. You also want to avoid over-penalizing for minor infractions. When appropriate, provide reasonable exceptions to rules and policies.
4. Communicate clearly.
It is usually a good idea to solicit feedback from residents before implementing a new policy. When doing so, make sure to anticipate areas of possible pushback so that you are prepared to address their concerns. Once you have done so, the rule should be voted on and adopted as required by the association’s governing documents.
There are many different ways to communicate the new policy to residents. You can include it in community newsletters, post signs around the property, email residents, or include it on the community’s social media sites. The key is to utilize different avenues so as to ensure that all residents are aware of the new policy and have the time necessary to comply with it. A good property management company should be able to assist your association with these resident communications.
5. Enforce violations swiftly, fairly and consistently.
When it comes time to enforce a policy, make sure that you are doing so consistently and fairly. Residents that feel like they have been treated unfairly, have very little motivation to comply with a policy. A professional community management company will help you enforce these policies as fairly and efficiently as possible.
If a resident violates a policy, provide them with proper written notice and a clearly detailed description of the penalties for violating the policy. The resident must be provided the opportunity to respond to the violation notice. The association should establish a process for doing so and remind the resident of that process. The resident has the right to seek legal counsel if he feels he has been treated unfairly.
If your association has not enforced policies in the past, it is never too late to start. Ask your association attorney for guidance on how to revitalize policies that had not been previously enforced.
6. The exception IS the rule.No matter how well crafted a policy may seem, it is important to remember that not every policy works for every resident in every situation. When appropriate, leave room for personal judgment and allow room for leniency, if warranted. Once again, consult with your attorney to make sure that the granting of exceptions will not compromise your policy in the future.
7. Beware of anonymous complaints.Always be wary of anonymous complaints. Generally speaking, people making credible complaints are usually willing to stand by their words. 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.On an annual basis, review your association policies and rules to make sure they still apply to your community. When doing so, confirm that no new legislation has 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 be challenging, but if you keep these eight tips in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing a new policy, you can certainly make rules without making enemies. For more information on how a professional management team can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading community association.