Here's how to find the balance between running your community and maintaining a friendly relationship with homeowners.
What Policy Enforcement Looks Like
Most board members know the step-by-step process when it comes to enforcing policies: written warnings, fines, liens and eventually legal action. But these steps don't have to be so cut and dry. Here's a different way of understanding policy enforcement.
Communicate often. Some violations may be honest mistakes and don't always need to come with a violation letter. After all, it's your responsibility that every homeowner receives regular communication about current and upcoming policies. Keep these communications light-hearted and easy to understand so residents feel as though you're talking with, not at them.
Start the conversation with, “You may be unaware, but we noticed your trash bin stays out past the time window. Moving forward, we’d really appreciate if you help us keep our community looking its best by following the association’s policies.”
Leading is about more than making the rules. Homeowners aren't the only ones who should know the rules about policy enforcement. Board members could also use a refresher on their governing documents. As you take time to sift through and thoroughly understand the fine print, board members should keep in mind that they work according to the CC&Rs and state and federal laws and on behalf of residents. When you look at it from a homeowner and board perspective, policy enforcement isn't so scary. It's also a great reminder that your goal isn't to punish homeowners but to promote a better resident lifestyle.
Self-help is the best help. There's plenty of policy enforcement experts, particularly through FirstService Residential. Seek out other practices, seminars or neighboring association boards to stay updated on best practices and building community relationships. Then, continue the conversation with homeowners! Let them know you consistently take advantage of learning opportunities and plan to add them to your leadership style. Taking this initiative shows you're serious about wanting the best for your association and builds on resident relationships.
Try creating Facebook poll to find out what topics your community feels you can benefit from as a board member.
What happens when you need to take further action?
Violations & Legal Action. Violations are not as uncommon as an HOA taking legal action. However, there are things you can do before it gets to the courthouse. Offering payment plans or mediation is the preferred method of easing tensions while assisting the homeowner in question to find a solution everyone agrees with.
Keep in mind that this or arbitration don't always lead to a unanimous agreement. That's where legal action comes in. For example, if a resident is behind on membership dues or hasn't addressed violation fines, judgment against the homeowner is likely the next step. Before taking it to court, be sure your association's legal team and community manager reviews the notice before informing the homeowner.
Voting Suspension. Another way to enforce HOA policies is by suspending a homeowner's right to vote as an association member. Whether it's about new policies, amenities or electing a new board member, you can temporarily suspend a resident's voice until their violations are resolved.
Amenity Restriction. Another effective tool is restricting amenity use. If clearly stated in the governing documents, community amenities like the pool or fitness center can be off-limits until their issue is addressed.
Policy enforcement is a two-way street. As a board member, it's your responsibility to effectively and clearly communicate with residents, seek opportunities for growth and build genuine relationships with your community. Consistently taking these steps are sure to make you a respected and effective leader among homeowners and fellow board members.