Community association rules are put in place for the benefit of everyone who lives in the community. It’s not the easiest task to make rules for a diverse community! The most important factors in association policy making, regardless of the type of community association, are clarity and sensibility. The board must be united on the policy being created and then must communicate that policy clearly to all residents. No matter what the policy is about, the basic guidelines to successful policy making and compliance remain the same.
It’s vital that everyone involved, including members of the association board, residents and the management team, understand who is responsible for which parts of policy creation, enforcement and compliance. Otherwise, residents may misunderstand who is responsible for creating the policy and establishing the consequences for violating it versus issuing a violation notice for breaking it.
The association board, elected by homeowners and residents, is responsible for creating all new rules and policies in the community. That said, the board may ask a knowledgeable community association management company to recommend cohesive policies that will help the board achieve its community objectives. A professional management company and its staff are then responsible for implementing the policies and documenting and enforcing violations. When new policy is conveyed to residents, also remind them of the roles of the various people in the process and the reasoning for establishing the new rule.

Keep these eight guidelines in mind when creating new policies for your community association:

1. Rules should be simple.
Rules shouldn’t require a thesaurus to understand, and following them should not be difficult. No policy should create a standard that homeowners have difficulty meeting. Make sure that the penalties for breaking a rule are expressed as clearly as the rule itself.
2. Don’t go to extremes.
The bigger the problem, the bigger the temptation there is to write an overly strict rule in response. Knee-jerk responses are called that for a reason: they are an immediate human instinct. But they often cause greater problems in the long run. Maintain perspective, be careful about not over-penalizing minor infractions and be open to reasonable exceptions.
3. Use common sense when making policy.
Is the rule being proposed really necessary? If not, don’t make it – and consider questioning why it is being proposed. Make sure that you always balance protecting resident safety and well-being, as well as property values, with homeowner freedom. If the rule creates a bigger problem than already existed, it’s not a good rule. Design new policies and rules with a specific outcome or goal. If a rule doesn’t achieve something concrete, don’t waste time and effort on making it. Taking a moment to assess the need for a new rule also helps an association board avoid political and personal pressure.
Be mindful of local laws and ordinances and mirror them when appropriate when you’re making a new policy. Doing so can give the policy more validity and another avenue of enforcement. Ask your association’s attorney to vet proposed policies to make sure that they don’t conflict with existing legislation.
When creating new rules, keep penalties for violating them in line with the policy being violated and institute a grace period when a rule is first announced. A progressive system of a friendly reminder, followed by a written warning, then an official violation notice and penalty is one way to go.
4. Clear communication is vital.  
When considering creating a new policy, ask for resident feedback: how much does this mean to the community? How important is it? Identify possible areas of pushback and find for solutions for them. Once consensus has been built and the policy has been created, the rule may need to be voted on and added to the bylaws and/or the association’s governing documents.
After the rule has been reviewed by legal counsel, communicate the new policy through posted signs, social media, community newsletters and emails. Ensure sure that all residents are aware of the policy and have enough time to comply before issuing violation notices for it. People cannot reasonably be held to a standard they don’t know about.  A professional community association management company, such as FirstService Residential, will have the tools in place to assist with these important resident communications.
5. Be prepared for exceptions.  
Leave room for personal judgment when appropriate, and allow for leniency if warranted. Common sense and compassion both come into play when a community recognizes that not every policy works for every resident in every situation.
6. Beware of the anonymous complaint.
Think of a complaint from an unverified source or an unnamed source as gossip. People who make credible complaints are willing to stand by their words. You can’t know if the complaint is malicious in motivation or if it’s justified. Verify it independently before taking action. Let residents know that anonymous complaints will be investigated further before any steps are taken. That may help minimize them. 
7. Be consistent with enforcement.
Residents who feel like they won’t be treated fairly have little motivation to follow a policy. The rules must be enforced fairly and must apply to everyone. Your professional community management company will help enforce rules the right way and follow up on a timely basis as needed.
“Every day, FirstService Residential’s associates strive to ‘Do What's Right’ for our communities and homeowners. On a daily basis, we use your community's rules to guide and inform our decision-making,” said Ian Guertin, regional director for FirstService Residential. “Frequent and concise communication of a community's rules and consistent rule enforcement helps our clients and residents avoid potential conflicts.”
Always follow the process outlined in your association’s governing documents. Provide the resident who has committed a violation with proper notice of that violation and a clearly detailed description of the consequences. The resident must be allowed to respond with their side of the story if desired, following the process already established by the association. Remember that they have a right to legal counsel if they feel they are being treated unreasonably.  
If your policy enforcement has been lax or non-existent, it’s not too late! Re-energize your community and your rules by sending a notice to residents, after checking with your association legal counsel. Let them know that the rules will be enforced beginning on a specific date. If there are policies of specific concern (parking problems, pet cleanup issues, use of the pool after hours), include a list of those policies, as well as the consequences for violating them.
8. Re-evaluate your rules annually.  
Take a look at all association policies and rules each year and make sure that they are still applicable and needed in your community association. Check that no new legislation has been passed that may make a rule obsolete. Make updates or eliminate policies as needed.
Keeping all of these concepts in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing a new policy in your association will make the process easier. For information on how a professional management team and its communication tools can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, Maryland’s leading community association management company.
Tuesday October 25, 2016