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We’ve all seen what can happen when rules go too far, are not enforced or are enforced inconsistently. In a homeowners association (HOA), these types of issues can even pit neighbor against neighbor. Of course, rules and policies are important for maintaining a quality neighborhood living environment, but at the same time, they shouldn’t interfere with the sense of community that is the hallmark of many HOAs.
So what can your board of directors do to make sure that your policies are fair and support your goals of establishing order and building a strong and attractive community? An experienced association management company can provide guidance on how to implement sensible policies and communicate them to residents. They can even take the burden off of your board when it comes to enforcing the rules and issuing violation notices.
Whether or not you work with a management company, your board should also follow these five recommendations so that your policies serve the needs of your HOA without being the source of neighborhood riffs.

1.  Use common sense when creating rules and penalties.

Always assess whether a new policy is really needed and if it achieves something concrete. Rulemaking is often a delicate balancing act between protecting property values and resident safety, and allowing homeowners to have a reasonable amount of personal freedom. Consider whether the new policy will result in more problems than you had before. For example, it is not unusual for HOAs to establish strict rules in response to a specific incident only to end up with new issues as a result of the rule. Don’t let pressure (political or personal) influence your policymaking decisions.

2.  Be familiar with your governing documents, as well as the law.

Whenever possible, create your policies to be in synch with pertinent Texas laws and the laws and ordinances in your local area. This will help validate your policies and provide an additional means of enforcement. Ashlynn Wells, senior vice president of management for Dallas/Fort Worth, also advises, “Before creating or changing existing rules or policies, have your association’s attorney review them to ensure they are in line with statutes and your governing documents.”

3.  Adopt suitable penalties.

When establishing penalties, make sure that they fit the “crime.” Penalizing residents for relatively small infractions—particularly for a first offense—is not a reasonable approach.  Fear, anger and other emotions (yours or other residents’) can lead to excessively harsh penalties, so be mindful that you do not lose perspective as a result of an emotional reaction. In addition, make sure your penalties are allowed by your governing documents and that the way in which they are implemented does not conflict with Texas statutes.

4.  Communicate simply and clearly.

If your policies are not easy to understand, how will homeowners be able to follow them? The penalties for violations need to be written clearly, too.
Likewise, if residents are not aware that you have added or changed your policies, you cannot expect them to adhere to them. Ideally, you should ask homeowners for their input before implementing any new policies. How important will the new policy be to the community? Are you getting legitimate resistance to it? Do you have a consensus?
Depending on your bylaws and governing documents, homeowners may need to vote on the proposed policy. However, as Wells points out, “There are times when the board can make a rule without consulting the membership in the form of a vote. It’s important to know the requirements.” She explains that “Even when a vote of the owners is not required, it’s best practice to always get input in advance to ensure you are leading the community in a direction that aligns with its interests.”
Once you adopt a new policy, be sure to make homeowners aware of it. Use a variety of channels (for example, emails, letters, websites, signage, newsletters and social media) to communicate with them. Give residents plenty of time to comply with the new rule before you issue violation notices. A good association management company can help you distribute these important communications.

5.  Enforce new rules consistently and fairly.

Nothing can create animosity as much as playing favorites. Apply the rules equally to everyone so that homeowners are motivated to comply.  If residents feel like they won’t be treated fairly, they have little motivation to comply with a policy. A professional association management company is well equipped to enforce the rules properly and to follow through until a particular situation has been resolved.
Residents who commit violations should receive a written violation notice, as well as a description of the penalties. You should also give them a chance to respond according to your association’s established process. Remember that they may also exercise their right to legal counsel if they believe you have treated them unfairly.  
Even if policy enforcement hasn’t been a priority, begin making it a priority now. “Consistent enforcement is key,” says Wells. “Having a professional management company responsible for enforcement of the rules set by the governing documents allows for an independent implementation of violation notices and ensures that personal information is not being considered in the violation process.”
Rules and policies are not meant to create problems among neighbors. Your HOA is a community first, so make sure that your primary focus is on what you can do for each other. Residents who are happy living together will be more apt to follow the rules, especially when policies are applied fairly.
For more information on how a professional homeowners association management company can help your community establish and enforce policies, contact FirstService Residential, the leading association management company in Texas.  
Monday October 31, 2016