Associations need rules to keep order, but if they’re taken too far or aren’t consistently and fairly enforced, things can get nasty. By establishing a solid set of rules, your board and property manager will have an easier time enforcing them; make them clear and communicate them regularly with residents and the job of enforcement should be even easier.
 
An association’s rules and policies are not meant to create problems or single out any one resident. It’s important that the board puts the community first, with the goal of creating a harmonious environment and enhancing property values. Finding the right balance can be tricky, so we’ve created some guidelines that can help.

1. USE COMMON SENSE.
This one may seem obvious, but we’ve seen it many times. The board should seriously assess if a new policy is necessary and the potential implications attached: Ask yourself if the new policy will create more problems as a result. The board should find a good balance between providing the safety of homeowners, protecting their freedoms (i.e. unreasonably limiting the activities of residents) and safeguarding property values. A lot easier said than done, but never let political or personal pressures influence your decisions as a board.

2. KNOW THE LIMITS.
Your association’s policies should be consistent with your governing documents, and in sync with any Minnesota state, county and city laws/ordinances, and if applicable, the MCIOA statute. Refer to your governing documents as they might require a homeowner vote before adopting new policies. If they don’t, boards always have the option of gaining consensus from the membership prior to establishing a new rule, but be careful. It’s also wise to run a draft by your association’s attorney just to make sure they don’t violate any of the above.
 
3. FOCUS ON THE OUTCOME.
The board should always ask themselves what they hope to get out of each new rule and create them with a specific outcome in mind. That said, it’s also important to establish a consequence that fits the violation. Keep in mind penalties are not meant to be a main source of income to the association, rather they are supposed to deter residents from violating the rules.

4. REVIEW OFTEN.
It’s great practice to examine the rules on a regular basis to determine if they still make sense and apply to the current environment. If not, consider eliminating irrelevant rules or update them to match the times. 

5. THE THREE C’S – CLEAR, CONSISTENT AND COMMUNICATE.
If your rules are written in a simple, clear manor, residents should be more apt to comply…as long as they are communicated.
 
Be clear – Don’t use legal terminology, write the rules using simple terms. It’s okay to refer to Minnesota state, county or city ordinances if necessary. If your association’s policies are not easy to read, homeowners will have a hard time following.
 
Be consistent and fair – Nobody likes it when the teacher plays favorites…unless you are the favorite. Rules and policies should be consistently and fairly enforced across the board (no pun intended). Inconsistent rule enforcement is a great way to encourage residents to disregard them, so if there’s a rule, it applies to everyone. Remember, being on the board isn’t always smooth sailing, so the smoothest path is to remain fair and consistent. Keep in mind that board members are also subject to the rules, the best way to gain consensus and encourage compliance is for the board to lead by example and always adhere to the rules.
 
When a rule is broken, act swiftly but fairly. Provide the homeowner in violation of a rule proper notice of his or her action, along with a clear description of the consequences. Then, listen openly to their side of the story. Don’t forget, homeowners have the right to legal counsel if they feel they’re being treated unfairly.
 
Communicate – This is especially important with new rules; if residents are not aware the board made changes or added additional policies, they simply can’t adapt to them. In the state of Minnesota, amendments to the rules and regulations are not effective until they are disseminated to the members. However, don’t wait for the board to establish new rules to communicate. It is best practice to regularly communicate your association’s rules, especially in Minnesota where different rules can apply during different seasons. For instance, let’s say it’s almost summer, it is a good practice for the board (or property manager) to communicate the pool rules every year right before the pool opens. Let’s be honest, in today’s society where everyone is running a million miles a minute, we can all use reminders every now and again.
 
The above also applies when determining the penalties as well.

6. ALLOW EXCEPTIONS FOR UNUSUAL CIRCUMSTANCES.
No rule can apply to every situation, so always be open to making exceptions if the situation warrants. Be prudent in your enforcement and make sure the board has been mindful when the situation dictates it. Apply similar consideration to other similar exceptional circumstances.

7. IGNORE ANONYMOUS.
If the board receives a complaint from an unverified source or from a homeowner that refuses to be named, don’t act on it. A credible complaint will come from a person who is willing to stand behind it.

8. DON’T FORGET THE DATE.
Always date each version of your Rules and Regulations; include page numbers and the most recent updated date on every page in the footer.

Rules should work in favor of your association, not against. Use these tips to as a baseline for creating or revising your rules to improve the overall community. Homeowners who are happy living together are more likely to abide by the rule, especially when policies are enforced fairly.
Friday May 26, 2017