HOA Policy Enforcement for a Happy and Harmonious Community
Article Courtesy of VENDORSMART
Published February 19, 2021
A community meeting with people grasping hands in a team effort
How can your board enforce your policies for the good of your HOA or condo association?
As a condo or HOA board member, making rules and HOA policy enforcement are a big part of your role. But it’s a tricky one. You don’t want to make enemies of all your neighbors. So how can you make and enforce policy the right way?
First, you need to make sure your rules are clear and sensible. You also want to ensure that all members of the board are a united front when it comes to the policy before clearly communicating it to your residents. Whether it’s a policy for amenity usage, bulk trash pickup, or overnight parking, the process for creating and enforcing rules successfully is the same.
To start, all board members, residents, and the management team must understand who plays which role in the process. When residents move in, especially if they are new to a managed community, make sure they know how the community operates, who creates policy, and who enforces it within the community.
Every community association board is responsible for establishing rules in the community, in compliance with the associations’ governing documents, as well as reviewing and considering any needed modifications to existing policies. The board is responsible for enforcing those rules and policies as well. A good rule of thumb when establishing a new policy is to remind residents of these roles, as well as explain the reasoning behind the new rule.
Here are seven simple tips to help you make rules to keep your community harmonious and happy:
1. Use a common-sense approach when making rules
Is the rule necessary? Or is it someone’s personal agenda? If it isn’t truly needed, then don’t make it or eliminate it if it no longer serves its original purpose. In rule-making, it is important to find a happy balance between resident well-being and homeowner freedom. If the rule causes more problems than it solves, then it may not be a good rule.
When creating rules, pay attention to local laws and ordinances that you must follow, and reflect them when appropriate. ALWAYS have your association attorney review any new proposed policies to make sure they don’t run afoul of state or local laws.
Make sure that the penalties you establish for violating any policy are in line with the regulation. When rules are first implemented, it is important to be lenient rather than cracking down without warning. Try starting with a friendly reminder of the new policy, then follow it up with a written warning, and then an official violation notice. Jumping right to violations and fines without a warning and grace period will anger homeowners and cause bigger problems in the long run.
2. Keep the rules simple and easy for residents to understand
Keeping it simple goes a long way in rule-making. Not only should the rules be easy to understand and follow, but they should never result in standards that are difficult to meet. The consequences for breaking the rules should be as clear as the rules.
3. Don’t be extreme in rule creation and HOA policy enforcement
Perspective is important! The bigger the issue, the bigger the temptation can be to write an overly strict rule to address it. Before addressing the issue, ask yourself if the rule is solving the problem. Avoid rules that cause more trouble than the problem they were meant to solve. You also want to avoid over-penalizing for minor infractions. When appropriate, provide reasonable exceptions to rules and policies.
4. Communicate rules clearly to make HOA policy enforcement easier
Get feedback from residents before implementing a new policy. Anticipate areas of possible pushback so that you are prepared to address resident concerns. Once you have done so, the rule can be voted on and adopted as required by the association’s governing documents.
Communicate all policy changes and new rules in community newsletters, signs posted around the property, emails to residents, and in social media posts. The most important thing is to make sure you use a variety of channels so that you reach all residents.
5. Be fair and consistent in HOA policy enforcement
When it comes time to enforce a policy, make sure that you are doing so consistently and fairly. Residents who feel they have been treated unfairly have little motivation to comply with a policy. All residents need to see that every resident is expected to follow the rules the same way.
When residents violate the rules, provide them with written notice as required by your governing documents and a clear description of the penalties for violating the policy. Create a process for allowing residents to respond to violation notice and remind them of that in the notice.
Note that if your association has not enforced policies in the past, it is never too late to start. Ask your association attorney for guidance on how to revitalize policies that had not been previously enforced.
6. Remember that exceptions are the rule to HOA policy enforcement
Remember that not every policy works for every resident in every situation. When it’s appropriate, leave room for personal judgment and allow room for leniency. As always, ask your attorney about granting exceptions the right way, so they don’t cause other enforcement problems in the future.
7. Check your rules regularly
Review your HOA and condo association policies and rules to make sure they still apply to your community once a year. When doing so, check that your state hasn’t passed any new legislation that would make a rule obsolete or require a new rule. Make updates as needed.