Policies and Compliance 101: Making Good Rules for Your Community Association
Good rules are essential to a great community. The most important ingredients in creating community association policy are clarity and sensibility. The board must be clear on the policy being crafted and then must communicate that policy to all residents. Regardless of the subject matter of the policy, the basic steps to creating a good policy and enforcing it successfully are the same.
It’s important that everyone involved, including board members, residents and the community association management team, understand who is responsible for each part of the process: policy creation, enforcement and compliance.
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 recommend effective and equitable policies to help boards achieve their goals and build a cohesive, appealing community. That professional community association management company and its staff are responsible for implementing the policies and documenting and enforcing violations. When a policy is created, it’s a good idea to remind all residents of the roles of the various agents in the process and the reasons behind establishing the new rule.
“Some of the greatest benefits of having good rules and regulations are that they help maintain the look and prestige of a community, and help ensure that property values continue to rise,” according to Donald Hucks, executive director for FirstService Residential. Good policy ultimately benefits everyone in the community association, and it’s important to get that across.
Keep these eight considerations in mind when making policy in your community association.
1. Let common sense be your guide.
If you really don’t need the rule, don’t make it. 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 doesn’t achieve a specific goal, take a look at why it’s being considered. When making policy, 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. Clear communication is critical.
When implementing a new policy, seek resident feedback: how much does this mean to the community? Identify possible areas of pushback. 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. Check with your association attorney to confirm the needed procedures.
After a consensus has been reached, communicate the new policy through emails, posted signs, social media, community newsletters and other means so that all residents are aware and have plenty of time to comply before violation notices are issued. A quality community association management company, such as FirstService Residential, will have a system in place to assist with these vital communications.
3. Keep it simple.
Rules shouldn’t be difficult to understand, and following them shouldn’t be tough. Policies should never result in standards that homeowners have to work hard to meet.
4. Practice moderation in rule-making.
It’s easy to overreact to problems by writing needlessly harsh rules. It’s human instinct to respond that way. Maintain perspective, be careful about not over-penalizing minor infractions (especially for first-time offenders) and be open to reasonable exceptions when warranted.
5. Check on your rules regularly.
Take a look at all community policies and rules on an annual basis. Does a rule made five years ago still make sense? Make sure that rules still work for your community. Check that no new legislation has been passed that may make a rule obsolete. Make updates or eliminate policies as needed.
6. Enforce violations even-handedly.
The rules have to apply to everyone and must be fairly enforced. If residents feel like they won’t be treated fairly, they have little motivation to comply with a policy. Your professional community management company is there to help enforce rules the right way and follow up on a timely basis to make that sure that the situation is resolved.
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, following the process already established by the association. Keep in mind 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! Start a “rule revitalization” by sending a notice to residents, after checking with your association legal counsel. Let everyone know that rules will be enforced beginning on a specific date and remind them of specific polices and the violation process.
7. Make room for exceptions.
Not every policy should apply to every resident and every situation. Both compassion and common sense need to be part of the equation. Leave room for personal judgment when appropriate, and allow for leniency if warranted.
8. Beware anonymous complaints.
Think of a complaint from an unverified source or an unnamed source as gossip. People who make credible complaints are usually willing to stand by their words. You can’t, as a board member, know if the complaint is justified or malicious in motivation. As with every complaint, verify the information independently before responding.
In order to ensure of a smooth process, keep all of these concepts in mind when creating, implementing and enforcing new policy in your association. For more information on how a professional management team and communication tools can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, South Carolina’s leading community management company.