Enforcing Condo and Co-op House Rules the Right Way

Very few people enjoy being the person who has to enforce their building’s house rules and regulations. It’s somewhat of a thankless job but having consistent enforcement of the rules will help improve overall shareholder experience and keep things running smoothly within the building. How can you ensure that shareholders/unit owners comply with the rules established without your board becoming the building’s bad guys?
 
Before you get started enforcing your condo or co-op’s house rules, make sure you’re setting the right rules and policies for your building with our article, Eight Simple Rules for Making Effective Condo and Co-op House Rules.
 
Once you have solid house rules established for your condo or co-op, it’s time to enforce them without upsetting the shareholders. Thankfully, your board shares the task of policy and rules enforcement with your management company, so your management team can help you enforce the rules when they notice residents aren’t in compliance. Read on to get several more tips on how to effectively enforce your buildings house rules.

Educate your shareholders
The best thing you can do for your residents is to consistently and clearly communicate what the house rules in the building are from the moment they move in. How can a shareholder or unit owner be expected to follow the rules if they don’t know what they are? Make sure everyone knows and understands the what, how, and why of your rules:
  • What are the rules? Explain what the rules is and what it does. For example: Our building has adopted a no smoking policy. Smoking is no longer permitted in common areas
  • How do residents follow the rules? Explain what your shareholders or unit owners need to do (or not do) in order to follow the rules. For example: All residents and guests must not smoke cigarettes, cigars or any tobacco product in common areas including courtyards and rooftops.
  • Why are these rules important for the building? Explain how the rule will benefit the shareholders and unit owners and improve the building. For example: Having no smoking rules in place enhances the resident experience (individuals will be exposed to less secondhand smoke) and improves our reputation with potential buyers, therefore enhancing our property values.
Distribute the house rules through a number of different channels to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to read through them. These channels can include emails, social media, newsletters, and posting in common areas. It’s also a good idea to create a new resident orientation guide that will help educate them on everything they’ll need to know in order to comply with the house rules and have a great experience in their building.

Consistently enforce the rules
It’s perfectly normal for people to develop friendships with the other residents in your building (yes, even board members). When they become disruptive is when some residents are given more leeway or special exceptions to the house rules due to their relationships with board members or managers. This is the fastest way to make enemies and create bitterness among other residents. It can even result in discrimination lawsuits!
 
This is why being consistent with rule enforcement is so critical to your building.

So how do you ensure consistent rule enforcement? Start with these simple do’s and don’ts: 
  • DO: Lead by example. If you expect residents to follow a rule, you should do the same.
  • DON’T: Change your rules based on circumstances or individuals. While it may appear to make things easier in the short term, it can create problems in the long term.
  • DO: Enforce rules they are violated. If residents assume they’ll be able to get away with breaking the rules, they will. Make sure you are enforcing policies according to a process set in place.
  • DO: Support the building staff when they enforce the rules. “Make sure that the building staff knows that they have your support when it comes to enforcement,” says Keith Werny, President of the Cityline Division in New York at FirstService Residential. “Nothing is more demoralizing and counterproductive to be overruled by the board when the building staff is just doing their job. If the board is not supporting them, it creates an awkward position for managers and building staff that are trying to enforce the house rules”.
As mentioned previously, consistent rules enforcement is the job of your management company. But it’s your job to partner with them and other board members to ensure that it is being done fairly and consistently.

Make your enforcement transparent
Your method of rule enforcement shouldn’t come as a surprise to residents of your building. In addition to understanding the rules, residents should also understand what happens (and what to do) when a rule is violated. They should also understand what the potential fines will be and how they will be collected. Here’s an example of what that looks like:
  1. The resident in violation of a rule receives a courtesy call explaining the details of the situation and the rule that was violated.
  2. The resident receives a violation letter, providing details on the rule and the offense as well as any fines required.
  3. If the resident does not respond after a certain period of time, a second violation letter is sent.
  4. Upon refusal to comply after 3 communications, the issue will be escalated to an attorney or violation committee for next steps.
It’s important to note that your process may differ based on best practices, different communication methods and local laws. Work with your management company to ensure that you are abiding by best practices and in accordance with your governing documents and local laws.
Continuously evaluate the rules
The rules that your building had in place 5 years ago, may not be relevant anymore. That’s why it’s important to review your rules on an annual basis. When reviewing policies, work with your attorney and management company and ask the following questions:
  • Has New York state legislature passed any laws that invalidate these rules?
  • Do these house rules improve resident lifestyles and/or enhance our reputation?
  • Will this rule become outdated in the next year or two?
  • Is this rule still relevant for all shareholders and unit owners? 
If you do revise or remove any existing rules, make sure you communicate and educate residents about the change and explain the reasoning behind it.

Establishing clear, common sense condo or co-op house rules will help everyone in the building live in harmony and consistent enforcement of the rules will keep things running smoothly and give your building a good reputation as a great place to live.