How to Make Good Policy in Your Community: Eight Simple Rules
The most important factors in association policy making, regardless of the concern at hand, are clarity and sensibility. The board must be clear – and united – on the policy being created and then must clearly communicate that policy to all residents. Whether you live in a community nestled in the beautiful valley near Burnsville or one in lovely Mooresville, the basic steps to creating good policy and enforcing it successfully are the same.
It’s vital that everyone in the community association, including board members, residents and the management team, understand who has ownership of which part of the policy-making process: creation, enforcement and compliance. If this isn’t clearly communicated, homeowners may not understand who is responsible for creating the policy and establishing the consequences for violating it, versus issuing a violation notice for breaking it.
The community association board, duly elected by homeowners and residents, is always responsible for establishing all new policy in the community. That board may decide to ask for assistance from their knowledgeable community association management company when it comes time to consider writing new policy. The community association management company can recommend fair and effective policies that will help the board achieve its goals and build an appealing community. The management company and its staff are then responsible to implement the policies and enforce violations with proper procedure and documentation.
Here are eight simple rules to follow when making policy:
1. Use common sense.
Avoid political or personal pressure by taking a moment to reassess the need for a new policy before any time is invested in it. Design new policies and rules with a specific outcome or goal. If a proposed rule doesn’t achieve something concrete, take a second look at why it’s being brought up for consideration. Always balance protecting resident safety and well-being, as well as property values, with homeowner freedom. If the rule creates a bigger problem than already existed, it’s not a good rule. If a rule isn’t necessary, don’t make it.
Be aware of local laws and ordinances and when appropriate, mirror them when making policy. Doing so can give the policy more validity and another avenue of enforcement. All new policies should be reviewed by your association’s attorney to ensure that they don’t conflict with existing laws or association rules.
When drafting rules, keep penalties for violating them proportional to the policy being violated. Consider a grace period 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.
2. Communicate often and clearly.
Transparency in policy-making is as important as financial transparency for an association board. Seek consensus and buy in from residents before adding a new policy to the rules. Ask for input from residents and take the community’s temperature on the issue. Identify possible areas of pushback and offer solutions to them. 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. This isn’t always the case, so check your governing documents for guidance or ask your association’s legal counsel.
After the rule has been finalized, communicate it to residents and homeowners via email, posted signs, social media, community newsletters and other available means. People cannot be held to a standard they don’t know about. Make sure that residents have plenty of time to comply before violations are issued. A quality community management company, such as FirstService Residential, will have tools available assist with these important resident communications.
3. Keep language and rules simple.
Rules should be written in clear, simple language that doesn’t require a dictionary to understand. Following rules shouldn’t be difficult and they should never result in a standard that homeowners have difficulty achieving. The penalties for breaking a rule should be expressed as clearly as the rule itself.
4. Practice moderation.
The bigger the problem being addressed, the greater the temptation is to write an overly strict rule in response. That usually causes more trouble in the long run. Pause for a moment before responding to a problem via a new policy. Maintain perspective, don’t over-penalize minor infractions (especially for first-time offenders) and be open to reasonable exceptions.
5. Conduct a regular rule review.
It’s important to make sure that all rules and policies are relevant. Conduct an annual review of the governing documents and assess whether a rule is still needed. Does a rule made five years ago still make sense? Is it still applicable? Check that no new legislation has been passed that may make a rule obsolete. Eliminate or update rules and policies as needed.
6. Be careful of anonymous complaints.
People who make credible complaints are willing to stand by their words. You can’t, as a board member, know if an anonymous complaint is justified or malicious in motivation or just idle gossip. Investigate before taking any action on it, as you should with any complaint.
7. Be fair when enforcing violations.
If residents feel like they won’t be treated reasonably and consistently, they have very little motivation to comply with a policy. The rules must be applied everyone consistently and must be enforced swiftly and evenly. Your professional community management company is there to help enforce compliance in the right way and follow up on a timely basis as needed.
Provide the resident who has committed a violation with proper written notice of that violation, along with a clearly detailed description of the consequences, according to the process set forth in the association’s governing documents. The resident must have an opportunity to respond if they want to, following the same established process. Remember 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! Revitalizing your community and your rules isn’t difficult. Start by sending a notice to residents, after checking with your legal counsel. Let all residents 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.
8. Know that there will be exceptions.
Not every rule can work for every situation and every single resident. Allow common sense and compassion to come into play when warranted. Leave room for personal judgment when reasonable, and allow for leniency if appropriate.
Following these eight simple rules will help when creating, implementing and enforcing new policy in your association. To find out how a professional management team and its communication tools can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, North Carolina’s leading community association management company.