How to Establish Sensible HOA Policies
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Rules and regulations are important in any homeowners association (HOA). But when they aren’t enforced, are enforced inconsistently, or go a bit too far, they can create resentment and put your HOA at risk.
What can your board do to prevent these issues? How can you be sure that the policies you establish and enforce will actually help your association run more smoothly without eroding your sense of community?
An experienced HOA management company can be a valuable asset in this area. Not only can the right company help you create policies that make sense, but it can also help you communicate those policies to residents, enforce your HOA’s rules fairly and issue appropriate violation notices.
Regardless of whether you have the support of a management company, apply the 5 recommendations below so that your policies accomplish their intended purpose rather than create new problems.
- Create your policies with common sense.
Start by assessing whether the prospective policy will achieve something tangible and if it’s really needed. Establishing new rules or proposing changes to the Declaration often requires walking a fine line between protecting residents, property values and the general interests of the HOA and allowing homeowners to have personal freedom.
For example, some HOA boards create rule changes as a knee-jerk reaction to a specific incident. Other times, they establish rules because of a “squeaky wheel” in the community or because of politically motivated pressure. Consider carefully if the new policy is likely to cause unwanted consequences that may turn out to be worse than the initial issue it was meant to contain.
- Know what’s in your governing documents and Minnesota law.
It’s crucial that any new rules and regulations not conflict with your HOA’s governing documents or with the Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act (MCIOA). If a rule conflicts with the other governing documents it will not be enforceable.
According to Mark Gittleman, president of FirstService Residential in Minnesota, “You can avoid running up against your governing documents or Minnesota law by having your association attorney review any additions or changes to rules and regulations that address complicated issues and/or that are also addressed in some fashion in the HOA’s governing documents or MCIOA.”
- Adopt appropriate penalties.
Avoid excessively harsh penalties for minor infractions, and make sure the penalties fit the “crimes.” Penalizing residents for relatively small infractions, especially for first offenses, isn’t wise and can breed resentment. Be aware of your own feelings and keep emotions out of your decision. In addition, verify that your penalties and the way you implement them are allowed by your governing documents and by Minnesota statutes.
- Communicate the new policy simply and clearly.
If homeowners aren’t able to understand a new policy, it will be difficult for them to follow it. Make sure that you use simple and clear language when writing policies and describing penalties.
Changing your Declaration or bylaws requires homeowner votes and may also require approval of first-mortgage. “Again, your attorney can advise you about the requirements,” says Gittleman. “But even if you don’t need to put a rule up for a vote, it’s a good idea to ask homeowners for their input. You’ll get insights about its importance to the community and whether there’s any valid resistance.” Seeking residents’ input also has another benefit: Community members are more engaged and more likely to be supportive of changes if they’ve had the opportunity to be involved in the process.
Once your board has adopted a new rule or regulation or your community has amended its Declaration or bylaws, use a range of communication channels to make homeowners aware of any changes. Typical methods for getting the word out are emails, your community newsletter, website, signage, social media, flyers and postal mail. Provide a grace period to give residents enough time to comply with any governing documents or rule changes before you begin issuing violation notices. A good management company can help write and distribute these communications.
- Enforce new policies fairly and consistently.
One of the dangers of playing favorites is that it fuels animosity and makes residents resistant to complying. Make sure you are applying all rules fairly to ensure that residents are motivated to follow them. “Having a professional management company take responsibility for enforcing the rules can help address this,” says Gittleman. “It removes the perception that personal relationships are having a role in how the rules are being enforced.”
Violators should receive a written violation notice, along with a description of the penalties. The MCIOA requires that the offending owner be provided an opportunity for them to respond and be heard by the board of directors regarding the allegations before fines or other penalties are assessed. The violation notice should inform the offending owner of this right.
Association policies, whether stipulated in the governing documents or rules and regulations, are meant to improve your community, not to create problems. Be fair and sensible with the policies you put in place and above all, keep your focus on creating a community that residents love. Happy residents will be more committed to their HOA and more inclined to follow the rules.
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