Making the Rules without Making Enemies: Policy and Compliance Basics



Good rules make good community members. There are two critical components to making good policy, no matter what kind of community association you live in: clarity and sensibility. The board must be clear on the policy being created and the reasons for creating it. They must then communicate that policy to all residents. Whether the policy is about approved high-rise flooring, designated smoking areas, overnight guest parking or amenity usage, the basic principles for writing good policy and successfully enforcing it are the same.
 
It’s equally important that everyone involved, including board members, residents and the management team, understand who is responsible for the various roles that are part of policy creation, enforcement and compliance.
 
In all cases, the association board, which is elected by homeowners and residents, is responsible for establishing all new rules and policies in the community. That said, a professional community association management company can be helpful in recommending effective policies that will help the board achieve their community goals. A professional management company and its staff are responsible for implementing those policies, as well as documenting and enforcing violations. When communicating new policies, remind all residents of the roles of the various agents in the process and the reasoning behind the new rule.
 
Follow these eight recommendations when writing new policy in your community:
 
1. Do a regular rule check.
Take a look at all policies and rules in your community each year. Are they still needed? Still appropriate? Does a rule made five or 10 years ago still make sense? Check for new legislation that may make a rule obsolete. Update or eliminate policies as needed.
 
“Ensuring that a community’s rules and regulations are reviewed, updated and communicated to the residents on a regular basis helps keep the community fresh and vibrant. In today’s fast-paced, ever-changing world, new technology offers new ways every day to effectively communicate with our communities,” said Marguerite Donovan, community manager for FirstService Residential. “Back in 1988, when I managed my first community, satellite dishes, cell phones and the internet were still concepts that none of us had even heard of and, yet, today we would be lost without them!”
 
2. Common sense should be the guide.  
If the rule creates a bigger problem than already existed, it’s not a good rule. Make sure that you always balance homeowner freedom with protecting resident safety and well-being, as well as property values. Design new policies and rules with a specific outcome or goal; if you can’t determine what that is, take a closer look at why the rule is being proposed. This will help your board avoid political or personal pressure and arbitrary policy-making. When making policy, be mindful of local laws and ordinances and mirror them when appropriate. It can give the policy more validity and another avenue of enforcement.
 
When drafting rules, it is essential to make sure that the penalties for violating them are in line with the policy being violated. Consider leniency for a certain period of time when a rule is first implemented. A progressive system of a friendly reminder, followed by a written warning, then an official violation notice and penalty is one way to go.
 
3. Simplicity is the best way to go.  
Rules shouldn’t require a thesaurus to understand. Following them shouldn’t be tricky or difficult. Policies should never result in standards that homeowners have a hard time meeting. Make sure that the penalties for breaking a rule are expressed as clearly as the rule itself.
 
4. Moderation is the key.  
Knee-jerk responses are called that for a reason: they are an immediate instinct, especially in the face of a big problem, and they can make things even worse. The bigger the problem, the greater the temptation to write an overly strict response. Maintaining perspective and pausing to consider the ramifications of a harsh rule are important parts of the response process.
 
5. Clear communication is critical.
When implementing a new policy, seek resident feedback: how much does this mean to the community? Identify possible areas of pushback. 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.
 
Following that, communicate the new policy through emails, community newsletters, social media, posted signs and other means to inform all residents are aware. Provide ample time for them to comply before violation notices are issued. People cannot be held to a standard they don’t know about. A quality community association management company, such as FirstService Residential, will already have the tools to assist with these crucial resident communications.
 
6. Fairness matters in violation enforcement.
Policies must apply to everyone and must be enforced with an even-handed approach. If residents feel like they aren’t being treated fairly, they have little motivation to comply with any rules the board creates. Your professional community association management company can help your board enforce policy properly and follow up on a timely basis to make that sure that the situation is resolved.
 
Provide the resident who has committed a violation with proper notice of that violation, along with a clearly detailed description of the consequences, as defined in your association’s governing documents. The resident must have an opportunity to respond with their side of the story if desired. Keep in mind that they have a right to legal counsel if they feel they are being treated unreasonably. If you have any questions, contact your association’s legal counsel.
 
If your association hasn’t been enforcing policies at all, it’s not too late to start!  It is possible to revitalize your community and your rules. Check with your legal counsel and then notify residents that rules will be enforced, beginning on a specific date. Include a reminder about any policies of special concern and the steps of the violation process.
 
7. Verify anonymous complaints.   
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. It’s impossible to know the motivation behind an anonymous complaint, and whether it’s malicious or justified. Take the time to investigate and verify the situation before responding.
 
8.  Expect some exceptions. 
Common sense and compassion are both part of the equation when a community recognizes that not every policy works for every resident in every situation. Leave room for personal judgment when appropriate. Allow for leniency when warranted.
 
To keep your compliance process running smoothly, keep these ideas in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing new policy in your community association. For more information on how a professional management team can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, New Jersey’s leading community association management company.