How can your board make rules that keep everyone happy?

Healthy associations must have clear and fair policies that enhance the resident experience. But it’s no easy task.

It's hard to bring every resident on board, whether you're developing new rules for a high-rise, condo, townhome or master-planned community. Not every person understands the big picture, and in some cases, it may feel inconvenient or unfair. The board of directors needs to be united on their association’s policies. Whether it's about holiday decorations, swimming pool use overnight parking, developing and enforcing standards involves board alignment, clear communication, and understanding from residents.

Before diving into policy creation best practices, let’s start with the basics. Your board is responsible for drafting new rules in accordance with the association's governing documents, as well as periodically reviewing and considering changes. It is also your board's responsibility to ensure compliance with the community's rules and policies. However, if you partner with a professional property management company, they will be tasked with implementing these policies, as well as documenting and enforcing violations.

With that in mind, here are nine tips that will help you make rules without making enemies.

1. Ensure your rules are absolutely necessary.

When making rules or reviewing existing rules, ask yourself if the rule is necessary. If it isn’t, then don’t make it, or eliminate it if it is not serving the purpose for which it may have originally been created. Always strike a balance between resident happiness and homeowner autonomy. If the problems stemming from a rule outweigh the benefits to your community, chances are it’s not a good rule. Create new regulations or policies with a clear objective in mind. If a rule fails to achieve its goal, it's time to talk to your board about it. To avoid arbitrary policy or political or personal pressure, take a moment to assess whether the new policy is really needed or not.

2. Avoid extremes in your policy and in the penalties.

It's critical to keep perspective when writing rules. It is often the case that the bigger the problem, the bigger the temptation to write an overly strict rule to address it. Consider whether the rule is actually solving the problem or is just a knee-jerk reaction. The last thing you want is a rule that produces more problems than the problem it was meant to solve.

Be mindful of over-penalizing for minor infractions and keep an open mind when providing reasonable exceptions. Your board should ensure that the penalties for violating policies align with the policy being violated. When the rule is first established, you may want to explore leniency. The best approach is to use a progressive system that starts with a reminder, then a written warning, and finally an official violation notice.

3. Always follow the law and your governing documents.

When developing policies, keep in mind local laws and ordinances and, when possible, match them. Not only does it give your policy more validity, it can also give you another avenue of enforcement. Legal counsel should review all new rules to ensure that they do not conflict with current laws or governing documents.

“FirstService Residential can also help guide the board when it comes to revising existing community guidelines and policies to conform to new laws,” said Danny Ellis, president at FirstService Residential. "When a new member joins, they may not be aware of the factors that may influence new rules. That is why it is critical to involve your legal counsel and property management company."

4. Create policies that are simple and easy to follow.

Residents who don't understand how to follow a new policy may overlook a key detail and face penalties if they do not comply. Complicated rules might also frustrate residents and harm your community's reputation. That’s why it’s imperative to keep your rules easy to understand and follow. Policies should never result in standards that are hard to meet. And of course, make sure the consequences for breaking a rule are as clear as the rule itself.

5. Communicate clearly throughout the process – before, during and after the policy is implemented.

Strong association policies require clear, consistent, and thorough communication. And the communication should begin before the policy is implemented. You may want to ask for resident feedback and identify areas of possible pushback. The rule should be voted on and adopted as required by the association's governing documents once consensus has been reached and the rule has been drafted.

The next step is to communicate the new policy to residents. You'll need to explain what the policy is, how to implement it, and, perhaps most significantly, why the policy will benefit the entire community. If residents don’t understand the reasoning behind a new rule, they may be opposed to it right off the bat.

You should develop a strong rollout plan with your management company to successfully communicate your policies. To ensure that all residents know the new policy and have adequate time to comply, you may wish to communicate via posted signs, community newsletters, emails, and social media. FirstService Residential utilizes its proprietary platform FirstService Residential Connect to distribute communications to residents.

6. Enforce violations swiftly, fairly and consistently.

Make sure you're consistent and fair when enforcing laws. A professional property management company can help ensure that rules are enforced fairly and swiftly.

If a resident has violated a policy, provide them proper written notice along with a full summary of the repercussions of breaking the rule. The resident must be given the option to respond to the violation notice, but must do so according to the procedure set by the association. Keep in mind that residents have the right to seek legal counsel if they feel they are being treated unreasonably.

There's no reason to be concerned if your organization has previously failed to implement policies. It's not too late to get started. Talk to your association's attorney about re-establishing rules and regulations that haven't been enforced for a while. As always, clear communication with the membership is absolutely critical.

7. Remember that the exception IS the rule.

It’s important for communities to realize that not every policy works for every resident in every situation. Leave room for exceptions to the rule when appropriate, legal, non-discriminatory, and reasonable, and allow for leniency if warranted. During the adoption and enforcement processes, the association's attorney should be consulted to ensure that the granting of exceptions does not jeopardize future enforcement or violate the law.

8. Beware of the anonymous complaint.

People who are willing to stand by their words are usually making credible complaints. You should regard anonymous complaints as gossip. Without knowing the source of a complaint, it is difficult for a board member to determine if it is justified or malicious. Before acting on any complaint, it's usually a good idea to verify the information.

9. Check your rules regularly rule.

It’s good practice to evaluate your association policies and rules on an annual basis to make sure they still apply. Your management company should assist you with keeping up with local laws and new legislation that could make current policies obsolete. You may need to revise or eliminate policies depending on what you discover. “Great association policies require a proactive and well-intentioned board, thoughtful communications and consistent enforcement,” said Ellis. “Without these key ingredients, you may put your association at risk of a poor reputation or even legal troubles.”

For more information on how a professional management team can assist your association, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s leading property management company.
Friday May 20, 2022