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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 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 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 5 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 synch up any new 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. “Your association’s legal counsel should review any policies or rules you’re creating or revising,” says Patricia Bialek, vice president of property management for FirstService Residential in Illinois. “This will ensure that they are consistent with Illinois statutes and your governing documents.”

Apply common sense.
Ask yourself two questions before creating a new policy:
  • Is it really necessary?
  • Will it achieve something useful and tangible?
     
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.
 
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.
 
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.
 
Use all your usual communication channels to inform residents about the 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. After adopting the policy, provide a grace period before you begin to issue violation notices so residents can get used to complying with the new rule.

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.
 
Rules and policies are meant to help your association run more smoothly, not to create issues. Be sensible and fair with your policies, 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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Monday July 30, 2018