6 Ways to Make Sensible HOA Policies
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In a community association, there are necessary rules and policies to allow the sanctity of the board to continue. These HOA rules and procedures help create and maintain order, which keeps the community secure. However, if the rules are too strict and feel unfair, or they are very lob-sided in terms of enforcing them depending on the resident, they can create severe problems for the board.
This article recommends ways for your board to ensure that your community association can maintain the community's quality while simultaneously keeping animosities to a low. With a great community association management company, they will ensure that you establish reasonable policies and the proper way to convey them to your residents while finding a healthy balance in enforcing them and issuing violation notices.
Whether you are self-managed or have help from a management company, you can always look toward these six tips to establish sensible community association policies:
1. Understand your governing documents and your state's laws to avoid trouble
When you become more familiar with the governing documents that have to do with Missouri and Kansas law regarding community associations, this will surely help in staying away from any legal trouble when determining new HOA policies. "You should first have new policies reviewed by your community association attorney," says Jennifer Bishop, property manager for FirstService Residential in Missouri. "Your attorney can verify that you're not implementing them in a way that conflicts with your governing documents or with the law."
An excellent initiative is to sync any new board policy with the state statues and any city laws or ordinances. Take the extra step in reaching out to your local government to know all the potential violations and enforcement laws. This will provide you with peace of mind while further validating any policies. This also helps when needing to enforce these new HOA rules.
2. Common sense needs to be common
Think hard about whether the new HOA rule at hand is even necessary. Will it create a positive change? Or will it just create new hardships for your residents? It would help if you remembered to balance your responsibility to protect the community association and its residents while not sacrificing your residents' need for personal freedom. Also, do not create a "conflict of interest" to fulfill a personal agenda, as this could lead to new (and potentially legal) issues. Avoid creating a new rule as a response to a single incident. If a certain issue starts arising on a regular basis, then it is time to consider creating a policy to address it.
3. Review your HOA rules on an annual basis
While HOA rules seem like something that is set in stone, that is not the case. As community needs, local laws and trends change, rules 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. 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.
4. Adopt appropriate penalties
If there are minor infractions of the new HOA rules, especially a first offense, don't give a severe penalty. Often, a resident needs time to remember new systems, so check your emotions before establishing penalties. Further, you might be doing yourself and the board a disservice by seeming too harsh. Residents might take it to the next level, creating legal issues for the community association.
5. Be as clear as possible when communicating the policy
If your board has a detailed and stringent policy, you can't expect your residents to follow it immediately. Write the policy out and any penalties involved in breaking the HOA rules as simple as you can. Constant reminders are also recommended via e-blasts, newsletters, verbal communication, and so on. A grace period will also give your residents enough time to understand the policy before any penalties are given out. When communicating new and amended rules to the community it’s recommended using multiple communication tools so each resident receives the updates in a timely manner.
Depending on your governing documents, a homeowner's vote may be required before you can adopt a policy or rule. "In some cases, you may not need a homeowner vote," says Bishop. "Nevertheless, it's a best practice to get their input. It will provide you with important information about its value to the community and any valid objections," she explains.
6. Be consistent and fair when enforcing new HOA rules
It will be immediately noticeable when there is favoritism involved when enforcing new rules. If a resident notices a board member is taking advantage of their position to bend the rules, this will convey the wrong message and create animosity. "Having a management company handle enforcement will eliminate any perception of favoritism," Bishop notes.
When a resident violates a rule, it would be best practice to give them a violation notice and a detailed explanation of the penalties in writing. This will give them a chance to respond according to your community association's established process fairly. If needed, you should oblige with a resident's wishes to ask for legal counsel if they feel they have been unfairly treated.
HOA policies are not the enemy
Policies and rules are put in place to protect the community association with the best interest of all community members in mind, and not to create hardships. Ensure there is fairness, clarity, and common sense when making these policies and enforcing them. You want your residents to feel they are being trusted, which creates a better community for all.
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