Policies are necessary in any condominium corporation, but if they aren’t well thought out or properly implemented, they can create more problems than they solve. For example, if a rule goes too far, is not enforced fairly or is not enforced at all, it can cause resentment among unit owners and erode your sense of community. So what can your board do to be certain that the policies you establish do the job they were intended to do?
A knowledgeable property management company can lend its experience to help you establish sound policies. In addition, it can assist you in communicating your new policies to residents and can relieve your board of the responsibility for enforcing rules fairly and issuing violation notices. Your condo corporation will also benefit if board members follow the 5 recommendations below.
1. Start with some common sense.
When developing a new policy, your board must weigh its value against its impact on owners’ personal freedom. For example, ask yourself how much of a positive effect the policy will have on property values or resident safety. Leave community politics or personal agendas out of your decision making, and avoid creating stringent rules as a reaction to a single incident.
2. Familiarize yourself with your governing documents and Ontario condo law.
New policies should not contradict your existing governing documents or the Ontario Condominium Act. Try to synch them up with the Condo Act or with local laws and ordinances if possible. This will provide you with an extra source of validation and will support enforcement of the policy.
“It’s best to have the corporation’s attorney review any policies or rules you’re creating or revising,” says Tania Haluk, vice president, organizational effectiveness for FirstService Residential in Ontario. “That way you’re sure that they are consistent with Ontario statutes and your governing documents.”
3. Communicate the new policy clearly.
You can’t expect residents to follow policies or rules they don’t understand, so write them as clearly and as simply as possible.
Policies do not need approval by unit owners, but a rule can be challenged if 15% of the owners petition to call a meeting about it within 30 days. In that case, the rule is voted on at an owners’ meeting. “It’s a good idea to survey owners in advance to get an idea about the general consensus,” says Haluk.
Once you’ve adopted a policy, don’t issue violation notices until residents have had time to adjust – certainly not before the policy has been widely communicated. Implement a range of channels to get the word out. This might include your community website, emails, social media, your newsletter, postal mail and bulletin board notices. An experienced management company can help you write these communications, as well as distribute them.
4. Be consistent with enforcement.
Consistent enforcement is critical not only to prevent potential legal action, but also because it motivates residents to comply. When the rules aren’t applied fairly, owners are less likely to want to follow them.
5. Do an annual review as part of your annual general meeting
Needs change in a community, as do the regulations, local laws and trends. For instance, rules around smoking, marijuana and short-term rentals are changing In Ontario. Make sure your community is also staying current by having a formal review of your rules and policies. Then make sure that your governing documents have those rules/policies up to date. Your management company should be checking to ensure that you have the latest rules in status certificates, or on your resident website. The benefit to clear rules and policies is that it allows the owners to decide what kind of community that they want to live in. A “no pet” community 10 years ago, may not suit the needs and desires of the current residents. Rules and policies are meant to adapt to the requirements of the community. Finally, budget for this review both in terms of legal review and time. This is the framework that sets the tone for your community.
“A good property management company can handle enforcement for you,” Haluk says. “One of the advantages of turning that responsibility over to us is that it eliminates any perception that you’re playing favorites in how you hand out violation notices.”
When a violation occurs, the resident should receive a written violation notice and an explanation of the corresponding penalties. Keep in mind that if residents don’t think they’ve been treated fairly, they have the right to seek legal counsel.
Rules and policies are never meant to create problems. They are there to help your condominium corporation function better. Apply good sense and fairness when developing them and, above all, remember that your primary goal is to create a successful community in which residents enjoy living. And when they love where they live, they’ll be more committed to following the rules.
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