Eight Guiding Principles for Policy and Compliance
Good rules make good community members. The most important factors in association policy making are clarity and sensibility. The board must be clear – and clearly united – on the policy being crafted and then must communicate that policy to all residents. Whether the policy is about designated smoking areas, amenity usage, overnight guest parking or approved high-rise flooring, the guiding principles for creating good policy and successfully enforcing it are the same.
It’s vital that everyone involved -- board members, residents and the management team – have a clear understanding about who is responsible for the various roles that are part of policy creation, enforcement and compliance. Otherwise, there’s a chance of misunderstanding who is responsible for issuing a violation notice versus creating the policy and establishing the consequences for violating it.
In all cases, the association board, which is elected by homeowners and residents, is responsible for establishing all new rules and policies in the community. However, a knowledgeable community association management company can work with that board to recommend effective and equitable policies to enhance property values and improve the quality of residents’ lives. That professional management company and its staff are then responsible for implementing policies, as well as documenting and enforcing violations. When a policy is announced, take that opportunity to remind all residents of the roles of the various agents in the process and the reasons for creating a new policy.
Consider these eight principles when creating and enforcing new policy.
1. Let common sense set the tone.
Make sure that you always balance protecting property values and resident safety and well-being with homeowner freedom. Design new policies and rules with a specific outcome or goal. If a rule doesn’t achieve something concrete, take a look at why it’s being raised as an issue to consider. Be sure to avoid political or personal pressure and arbitrary policy by taking a moment to reassess the need for a new policy. “It’s essential that any rule can be uniformly and wholly enforced,” said Cheryl Malason, community association manager for FirstService Residential. “Don’t spend time and effort on rules that are difficult to enforce, possibly opening the association to liability.”
“For us, a good rule is one that is enforceable,” according to Rebecca Sarnese, executive director for FirstService Residential. “For example, if a height limit of one foot is set for lawn ornaments, is this really enforceable? Is someone going to take the time to go out and measure all of the ornaments in someone’s landscaping? Setting a limit on the number of ornaments, on the other hand, is absolutely enforceable. It sets a reasonable expectation for the resident, as well as for management.”
When making policy, also be mindful of local laws and ordinances and mirror them when appropriate. It can give the policy more validity and another avenue of enforcement.
When crafting rules, remember to keep penalties for violating them in line with the policy being violated and consider leniency for a certain period of time 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. Don’t complicate rules unnecessarily.
Rules should be easy to understand and easy to follow. Policies should never result in standards that are difficult or impossible for homeowners to meet. Penalties for breaking a rule should be expressed as simply and clearly as the rule itself.
3. Communicate clearly.
When considering a new policy, ask for resident feedback: how important is this issue to the community? Identify areas of pushback and address 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. “The adoption of a new rule doesn’t always require a vote and is dependent on the association’s governing documents,” Malason said. “It’s a good practice to have the association attorney review all rules before implementation.”
Communicate new policy through all means available: social media, emails, posted signs, community newsletters. Make sure that all residents are aware of the new rule and have ample time to comply before violation notices are issued. People cannot be held to a standard they don’t know about. A quality community association management company, such as FirstService Residential, will have a system to help with these important resident communications.
4. Perspective is important.
Knee-jerk responses are called that for a reason. They are an immediate instinct, especially in the face of a problem, and sometimes they make a situation worse. It’s important to slow down and not over-react. Look at the big picture, be careful about not over-penalizing minor infractions (especially for first-time offenders) and be open to reasonable exceptions when called for.
5. Allow for exceptions.
Common sense and compassion are both at play when a community recognizes that not every policy works for every resident in every situation. Leave room for personal judgment when appropriate; allow for leniency when warranted. “It’s good practice to have a defined policy for addressing special circumstances and documenting any exceptions by use of meeting minutes or a resolution,” Malason said.
6. Consistently enforce violations.
The rules must apply to everyone the same way and must be fairly enforced. Residents who feel like they won’t be treated fairly have little motivation to comply with a policy. Your professional community association management company will help enforce policies in the right way and follow up on a timely basis if 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. The resident must have an opportunity to respond with their side of the story if desired, as outlined in your association’s governing documents. Remember that they have the right to legal counsel if they feel they are being treated unreasonably.
If your association hasn’t been enforcing policies at all, you can start now. Revitalize your community and your rules by sending a notice to residents that policy enforcement will begin on a certain date. It’s a good idea to check with your legal counsel before doing so. If necessary, include information about any specific polices of special concern, as well as the steps of the violation process.
7. Beware of the anonymous complaint.
People who make credible complaints are willing to stand by their words. Until it is verified, consider complaints from an unverified source or an unnamed source as gossip. You can’t know if the complaint is justified or malicious in motivation. As with any complaint, investigate and verify it independently before taking action. Masalon suggests that associations consider drafting a complaint form for use by community members. Include the complainant’s name, address, and signature as support for any complaint.
8. Do a regular rule check.
Every year, take a little time to go over the rules that are in place in your association. Does a rule made five years ago still make sense? Is it still needed? Has it been rendered obsolete by new state legislation? Make updates or eliminate policies as needed.
Follow these guidelines when creating, implementing and enforcing new policy in your association and the process will run smoothly. For more information on how a professional management company and communication tools can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, Pennsylvania’s leading community association management company.