Eight Simple Rules for Making Effective Condo and Co-op Policies & House Rules

Posted on Thursday January 19, 2017


We all have rules we have to live by. Making those rules in the right way is critical. The most important factors in community policy making, whether for a condo or co-op, are clarity and sensibility. The board must be clear – and united – on the policy or rule being created and then must communicate effectively to all unit owners, shareholders and residents. That policy or rule has to make sense too. Whether it relates to designated smoking areas, approved flooring or amenity usage, the basic steps to creating good policy and rules, and enforcing them successfully are the same.
Everyone involved, including the management team, the board, owners and residents, must understand their responsibility when it comes to policy or rule creation, enforcement and compliance. Misunderstandings over who is responsible for creating a policy and establishing the penalties for violating it versus who is responsible for sending a violation notice can cause unnecessary confusion or conflict. When a policy is created, it’s a good idea to remind all residents of the roles of the various agents in the process and the reasoning for establishing the new policy or rule.
In all cases, the board, which is elected by the owners, is responsible for establishing all new policies and rules in the community. However, a knowledgeable property management company can recommend effective and equitable policies to help the board achieve its goals and create a cohesive, appealing community.  Boards should always check with the Coop’s/Condo’s counsel for guidance to ensure that the legal process of creating, implementing and enforcing policies and rules are in compliance with the corporate governing documents.
Keep these eight simple rules in mind when creating policy or House Rules and you’ll be able to make the rules without making enemies. 
1. Check the rules annually. 
Take a look at all association policies and rules on an annual basis and make sure that they are still applicable and relevant. Does a rule made five years ago still make sense? Check that no new legislation has been passed that may make a rule obsolete. Make updates or eliminate policies as needed.
2. Keep things as simple as possible. 
It should be easy to follow association rules. They shouldn’t require a thesaurus to understand. If a policy results in a standard that is difficult for residents to meet, take a second look at it. At the same time, the penalties for violating a policy should be as clear as the rule itself. 
3. Follow your common sense. 
We’ve all heard that common sense isn’t common, but it’s vital for making policy in a condo or co-op. If a rule isn’t necessary, don’t make it. Balance homeowner freedom with protecting resident well-being and property values. If the rule makes any situation more complicated than it already is, it’s not a good rule. If a rule doesn’t achieve something concrete and observable, take a look at why it’s being brought up for consideration. Avoid political or personal pressure and arbitrary policy by taking a moment to reassess the need for a new policy.
When making policy, be mindful of local laws and ordinances and mirror them when appropriate. Doing so can give the policy more validity and another avenue of enforcement. All new policies should be vetted by association legal counsel to make sure that they are consistent with existing laws or the Condominium’s/Cooperative’s existing rules.
When crafting policies or rules, remember to keep penalties for violating them in line with the policy being violated and 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 option. A Board should also make sure that the corporate documents allow for implementing monetary penalties without a vote of the owners.  
4. Communicate clearly – in both directions 
When implementing a new policy or rule, Identify possible areas of pushback – how much would this mean to the community? 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. 
After a consensus has been reached, communicate the new policy through emails, posted signs, social media, community newsletters and other means to make sure that all residents are aware and have ample time to comply before violation notices are issued. People cannot be held to a standard they don’t know about. A quality property management company, such as FirstService Residential, will have a system in place to assist with these vital resident communications.
5. Enforce violations correctly. 
The rules have to apply to everyone and must be enforced swiftly and consistently, and not retroactively. If residents feel like they won’t be treated fairly, they have little motivation to comply with a policy. Provide the resident who has committed a violation with proper written notice of that violation, along with a clearly detailed description of the consequences. The resident must have an opportunity to respond with their side of the story if desired, following the process already established by the association. Keep in mind that they have a right to legal counsel if they feel they are being treated unreasonably.  
If your association hasn’t been enforcing policies at all, it’s not too late! You can revitalize your community and your rules. Start by sending a notice to residents, always checking with your association legal counsel first, and letting them know that the rules will be enforced beginning on a specific date. Include a reminder of the specific policies that will be enforced and the steps of the violation process.
It’s also important that Board members comply with established policies and rules.  As fiduciaries, Board members are raised to a higher standard.  If a Board member is not following the rules, how can the Board expect others to comply or be perceived as universally applied without bias or preferential treatment?
6. Leave room for exceptions. 
Compassion and common sense both come into play when a community recognizes that not every policy works for every resident in every situation. Leave room for personal judgment when warranted and reasonable, and allow for leniency if appropriate.
7. Maintain perspective. 
The bigger the problem, the greater the instinct is to write an overly strict rule that’s going to cause more trouble in the long run. Maintain perspective, be careful about not over-penalizing minor infractions (especially for first-time offenders) and be open to reasonable exceptions when warranted.
8. Beware anonymous complaints. 
People who make credible complaints are willing to stand by their words. Think of a complaint from an unverified source or an unnamed source as gossip. As a board member, you can’t always know with absolute certainty if the complaint is justified, maliciously intended or motivated by self-interest.  As with any complaint, it’s best to verify it independently before taking action.
By keeping all of these simple rules in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing a new policy or rule in your Condo or Co-op can help develop greater awareness, compliance ownership and community unity for the owners and residents. 
For more information on how a professional management team and communication tools can assist your association, fill out the form below.
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