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



8 Simple Tips for Making Effective (and Livable) Condo and Co-op House Rules
 
Living in New York City has its benefits and challenges. Living in a multi-family New York City condo and co-op building requires owners to abide by house rules, policies and procedures. Residents usually are willing to comply because they recognize the value of these policies in helping to promote cooperation and harmony, enhance resident lifestyle and keep property values as high as possible.
 
As a board member, one of your most critical fiduciary responsibilities is to create new (or amend existing) house rules, policies and procedures that are relevant and serves the best interest of the many, and not the few. This could be related to apartment alteration work, moving into and out of the building, pet etiquette, smoking, or any other issue that needs formal and well-defined regulations. You also have a responsibility to minimize any confusion about new rules and to make it as easy as possible for your owners and residents to comply with them. How? These 8 tips will help your board create house rules that are clear and sensible.
 
  1. Start with a good reason – and a good dose of common sense.
    Look at the big picture, and evaluate what it is you are hoping to accomplish with the new policy. Are you developing it to achieve a specific, concrete goal that will benefit the building as a whole? If not, a new policy could create more problems than it resolves; especially if your decision is being responsive to a single complaint or event that doesn’t have mass impact.

    When establishing penalties, keep them aligned with the policy that has been violated and check with the condo’s or co-op’s attorney to determine the enforceability of such penalties based upon the terms and conditions of the governing documents if they are challenged. Avoid over-penalizing minor infractions, especially for first-time offenders. Your board could provide a grace period after the rule is rolled out. For example, you could begin with a friendly reminder, followed by an official violation notice, before issuing any penalties.
  2. Be mindful of laws and ordinances.
    Before creating a new house rule or policy, check with your condo’s or co-op’s corporate counsel on the applicability and enforceability of such rule or policy against state and city laws and ordinances, and the terms and conditions of the governing documents. Policies that aren’t aligned with state and city regulations won’t be valid and will only confuse owners & residents. It’s also possible that the issue you want to resolve is already addressed at the state or city level, making it unnecessary to create an additional rule. On the other hand, mirroring existing laws can give your house rules greater authority and provide an additional avenue of enforcement.

    Steven Hirsch, Executive Managing Director at FirstService Residential, New York, recommends having your building’s attorney review any new house rule or amendment before implementing it. “Your attorney can make sure it doesn’t conflict with any statutes or contradict anything that’s already in your governing documents,” he says.
  3. Make compliance easy.
    Any new rules or policies should be well defined and easy to follow. They should never set standards that are difficult or impossible for residents to meet. The penalties for breaking a rule should also be easy to understand.
  4. Communicate clearly.
    Good communication is the hallmark to effective customer service in managing properties. It’s especially crucial when it comes to implementing new policies.

    Once you’re ready to implement a new policy, use all means of communication to let residents know about it, including emails, posted signs, newsletters and social media. It’s important for everyone in the building to be aware of the new policy and have ample time to comply before you begin issuing violation notices. You can’t expect residents to abide by new regulations if they don’t know them, and understand the underlying purpose of them.
  5. Enforce the new house rule consistently.
    House Rules must apply to everyone equally and must be fairly enforced. “If residents believe a house rule won’t be fairly enforced, they won’t be as motivated to comply with it,” says Hirsch. “This is where a professional property management company can help. Your management team knows how to enforce house rules in an appropriate and timely way.”

    An owner/resident who violates a rule should receive written notice of the violation, along with a detailed description of the penalties. Your building should also have a process for owners/residents to respond to and dispute violations.

    If boards have a “relaxed” or soft enforcement approach of their house rules, there could be a perception that rules are not equally applied and open to challenge by owners/residents. If this is occurring, the board may want to consider re-introducing the house rule(s) and manage expectations by sending out a notice to all owners/residents that emphasizes the importance of these rules, the steps of the violation process and a date when strict enforcement will begin.
  6. Leave room for special circumstances.
    If possible, address special circumstances when creating a new policy, leaving room for exceptions or leniency when warranted. Your board may want to document those exceptions in meeting minutes or in a resolution for full disclosure and to help prevent claims of discriminatory enforcement practices.
  7. Educate residents about policy responsibilities.
    Residents need to understand that it is the board responsibility to create new rules, policies and procedures, and it is the property management’s responsibility to execute and enforce them, and to document violations. Of course, a knowledgeable management company can offer experienced advice. A good time to remind residents of these different roles is when you announce a new policy or amendment, or at the annual meeting.
  8. Do a regular check of your house rules.
    Does a house rule that was created 5 or 10 years ago still make sense? Has it been rendered obsolete by new state legislation, or does it need to be amended? Review your house rules periodically to address these questions. Make updates or eliminate rules as needed.
As a board member, it is your fiduciary responsibility to always put the interest of the entire building before yourself – especially when creating new house rules. The 8 guidelines described here will help you do just that, as well as make it easier for residents to accept new rules and comply with them.