Do you know the difference between rules and bylaws?

Our helpful guide will teach you the difference between rules and bylaws and provide important tips on how to create and communicate sensible rules for your community.   

Creating association pet policiesCreating effective association policies that are fair and easy for community members to follow is a challenge for any board of directors. Afterall you’re creating policies that your neighbors, who are often your friends, have to follow.  

Whether your policies address guest parking, smoking, amenity use, short-term rentals, or pets, they provide a framework for how your association operates. Well-crafted policies will help your association run smoothly, enhance the resident experience, and improve your board’s reputation in the community.  

But where do you start?  

If you’re working with an experienced community management company, they will provide guidance on establishing fair policies and communicating them clearly to residents. They are your go-to source for policy implementation, enforcement and documentation, so having their input from the start is critical.  

Next, your board should sit down with your community manager to review the proposed policy and ask the five following questions:

1. Is this policy necessary for our community? 

A new policy should only be created out of necessity for the well-being and growth of your community. If the rule is going to create more of a problem than the one it resolves, it’s best not to implement it.  

 Some additional questions to ask: 

  • Does the policy balance property values and resident well-being with the freedom of residents? 

  • Is the policy designed for a specific outcome or goal versus a personal preference?  

  • Are we motivated by political pressure, a personal agenda, or any arbitrary reasons? 

2. Does this policy align with local laws and ordinances?  

Make sure that your policy lines up with the law. Your management company and association’s legal counsel can provide guidance to ensure that your rules are consistent with local laws and ordinances. This will also provide further validation for your policy and support future enforcement.  

Further questions to ask: 

  • Has the policy been vetted by our management company (to ensure it doesn’t contradict laws or existing association rules)?  

  • Is the policy in accordance with state statutes that apply to HOAs? 

  • Does the policy fall in line with the association’s current governing documents? 

3. Will residents understand how to follow the policy?  

Communicating association policiesTransparency and clear communication are the principles here. Don’t create a rule that is overcomplicated or difficult to follow. The goal is to create a better resident experience. When confusing policies come into play, they can easily frustrate residents.

Communication plays a key role in the level of understanding as well – both before and after the rule is in place. Make sure that you are getting homeowners’ input from the beginning and communicating what the new policy means for homeowners, why it’s important for them and the community, and what they need to do before it rolls out.  
To ensure that your policy is clearly understood, ask these additional questions: 

  • Is the policy written as simply and clearly as possible? 

  • Have we asked for feedback on the policy before it’s implemented?  

  • Are we letting residents know what will change in advance? 

  • Does the rule make sense, and are we communicating the potential benefits to the association so that they understand the meaning behind it? 

  • What channels are we using to communicate the policy change (e.g., community website, newsletter, emails, bulletin board and postal mail)? 

4. Is the policy fair and reasonable?  

Boards may be tempted to create policies because of an immediate frustration or concern. And the bigger the problem, the greater the temptation to write an overly strict rule that will likely cause more trouble in the long run. That’s why it’s especially important to ensure you are creating policies that are fair, reasonable and consistent. Take steps to maintain perspective when you are creating rules and make sure that they apply to everyone.  
It’s also critical that you leave room for personal judgment and some leniency once the policy goes into effect. The rules should apply to everyone and must be fairly enforced. If residents feel like they won’t be treated fairly, they have little motivation to comply with a policy. Your professional management company can help provide guidance to ensure that rules are created with an unbiased approach.  

Ask these additional questions to ensure your policy takes this approach: 

  • Does the policy make sense for our entire community or just a handful of individuals?  

  • Are we keeping the big picture in mind when creating rules?   

  • Will the policy be fairly enforced? 

  • Are we leaving room for personal judgment and leniency once the policy goes into effect? 

5. How relevant is our policy? 

Creating community association policiesWhile many policies are created because of an immediate need and concern, an ideal rule will not only address current concerns, but will stand the test of time. Think about the policy in terms of what it will mean for future residents as well as your current community. 

Additionally, make sure that you are keeping current issues and concerns of the greater community in mind when developing your rules. For instance, if short-term rental policies are a big concern in your area, make sure that policies reflect that. With the prevalence of social media and online review websites, it’s more important than ever to develop policies with your reputation in mind.  
In addition to creating relevant policies now, review your policies and rules on an annual basis to ensure they still apply. For instance, new legislation may pass that will render a rule obsolete. You may need to make updates or eliminate policies if they no longer apply.  
Ask these additional questions to create policies that are timely and effective: 

  • Does this policy reflect current concerns and issues in our community? 

  • Will this rule make sense five years from now? 

  • Is this a policy that future residents will be looking for? 

  • Are we regularly reviewing our policies? 

The process of creating rules and policies doesn’t have to be a chore. Before you adopt a policy, make sure that you are asking the right questions and understand how active city or state legislation affecting community associations may impact the process to create rules. Lean on your community manager, legal counsel and management company to successfully create new policies. 

Monday October 23, 2023