Creating Condo and HOA Policies That Make Sense
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It’s a common problem that many condo and homeowners’ associations (HOAs) face: rules that simply don’t work as they were intended. Sometimes it’s because they are enforced inconsistently or aren’t enforced at all. Other times it’s because they go too far. At their worst, poorly instituted HOA policies can even cause neighborhood discord.
As much as your association needs policies and rules to run effectively, you don’t want them to interfere with the sense of community you’ve worked hard to build. So how can your condo or HOA board create policies that contribute to your community’s success and are fair to everyone?
Certainly, working with an experienced property management company can make it easier to establish sensible HOA policies and to communicate them clearly to residents. It can also relieve your board of the responsibility for enforcing those policies fairly. But whether or not you have the support of a good management company, it’s important to keep the following six tips in mind so that your policies don’t create more problems than they solve.
Be familiar with relevant laws and your governing documents
It’s best if you can sync up any new HOA policies directly with the Illinois Condominium Property Act, the Common Interest Community Association Act or local laws and ordinances. This gives you an additional source of validation for your policy and supports future enforcement.
Also, be sure the policy is in line with your association’s current governing documents. It’s beneficial to have your association’s legal counsel review any policies or rules you’re creating or revising. This will ensure that they are consistent with Illinois statutes and your governing documents.
Apply common sense
When creating a new policy, you need to ask yourself a couple key questions:
Is it really necessary?
Will it achieve something useful and tangible and bring positive change to the community or will it create strife?
The balance between protecting property values and resident safety (not to mention the interests of the association) and respecting homeowners’ personal freedom can be delicate. Be sure your decision to establish a new policy is based on sound judgment and not on community politics or someone’s personal agenda. For instance, your board may feel pressured to create stringent rules in reaction to a specific incident. If the incident isn’t likely to happen again, the additional rules could result in a new set of problems. If a certain type of incident start to become more common, then it’s time to consider creating a policy to address it.
Adopt penalties that fit the violation
Applying an overly harsh penalty to a relatively minor infraction – especially if it’s a first offense – only creates animosity. Be sure you aren’t allowing emotions to dictate how steep you make the penalty. In addition, check that the penalty doesn’t conflict with your governing documents or Illinois law. For a first offense a simple warning will suffice.
Communicate the new policy clearly
Start by writing the policy and its corresponding penalties as simply and clearly as possible. After all, residents need to understand the rules before they can follow them.
Before your board can adopt or amend any rules, Illinois law requires that you distribute it to homeowners and then hold a meeting with them to discuss it. You are not required to have a quorum of homeowners to hold the meeting unless specified in your governing documents. In addition, Illinois law does not require a vote by owners to adopt the new policy.
You cannot expect residents to follow the rules if they don’t know they exist. Use all your usual communication channels to inform residents about the new rule and the meeting, such as your community website, newsletter, emails, bulletin board and postal mail. Your management company can assist you in crafting and distributing appropriate communications. Once a new policy is adopted, provide a grace period before you begin to issue violation notices so residents can get used to complying with the new rule. It also doesn’t hurt to remind the community of the existing policies at the same time.
Be fair and consistent with enforcement
Applying the rules consistently helps prevent resentment and anger and encourages compliance. A good property management company will make sure that the association’s rules are fairly enforced and that violations are properly addressed. This means sending a written violation notice along with an explanation of the associated penalties. As per your HOA’s established processes, residents should have an opportunity to respond to violation notices, and they also have the right to seek legal counsel if they believe they have not been treated fairly.
Review your HOA policies on an annual basis
While HOA policies seem like something that is set in stone, that is not the case. As community needs, local laws and trends change, policies often need to change with them. Best practice is to review policies on an annual basis, if a rule is no longer benefiting the community consider if it makes sense to amend it or get rid of it all together. For example, a “no pet” policy that was created 10 years ago, may no longer suit the needs and desires of the current residents. Reviewing the rules during the annual general meeting is ideal as you can get input from your fellow residents. If changes are made to the rules or new policies are created after the review process, ensure these are reflected in the community’s governing documents.
HOA policies are not the enemy
Rules and policies are meant to help your association run more smoothly, with the interests of all community members in mind, not to create issues. Be sensible and fair with your policies, review them on a regular basis, and most importantly, stay focused on making your community a place that residents are proud to call home. Remember that when they enjoy where they live, they will be more committed to following the rules.
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