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3 Keys to Condo Association Rules and Enforcement

Posted on Wed, May 26, 2010 @ 09:27 PM
  
  
  

hoa rulesImagine, if you would, a community association where all residents were considerate, caring, responsible and respectful to one another. Wouldn't that be wonderful? And, in an ideal world, that is what all community associations would experience. The reality, however, is that while many association residents do try to be thoughtful neighbors, many others (at least on occasion) forget that they are living in a unique community environment. These residents may be less than considerate and respectful of their neighbors. It is precisely for this reason that community associations need to create and enforce house rules. These rules help to ensure a positive and reasonably safe living environment for all residents.

House Rules must be carefully and thoughtfully planned. They should be reasonable and address the needs of the community residents. They may cover such areas as quiet hours, pets, hazards, common areas, interior/exterior modifications, parking, etc... When board members are developing house rules, they should encourage open dialogue between themselves and the other residents. If everyone feels they have been part of the process, there will be fewer complaints about violation notices. Boards need to remember to keep rules reasonable and make sure rules do not ignore or discriminate against any one group. Equally, the rules must not favor any one group. If rules are carefully drafted, the result should be a safe and harmonious living environment for the entire community.

In the best case, with rules in place, everything should now run smoothly. Reality, again, is quite different. For various reasons, House Rules will always be violated. Some residents may feel the rules are just "on paper" and are not actually going to be enforced. They may feel there is no real need to be concerned about following the rules. Others, perhaps coming from a single family home, may not see the necessity for any rules and will choose to ignore them. Many others, who may not have been involved in the drafting of the rules, probably do not even read them and, thus, are unaware of any House Rules. All of this changes when someone gets their first violation letter. This is when the property manager may receive angry phone calls and hear things like the following: "I've never heard of that before!", or "There are too many rules!", or, "What about my neighbors? They break lots of rules!" and, finally, "Stop harassing me!" These are a few of the more common responses to violation letters.

How can a property manager, working with the board of directors, help to minimize such confrontational encounters? Human nature is such that anger and frustration can never be totally eliminated, but there are at least three keys to successful management of House Rules and violations that will help to reduce the degree of anger directed at the board and/or property manager.

The first key is education. Homeowners must be given many opportunities to learn exactly what the rules are. The first time would be at the time of purchase. House Rules should be included in their initial packet of documents. Often, however, these rules are lost in the piles of papers owners must deal with during this stressful time. Another opportunity would be right after new residents move in. A Welcoming Committee or designated board member could drop by with a Welcome Packet containing a welcome message and a copy of the House Rules. They might also include a small house-warming gift, such as a plant. Another opportunity to educate residents would be in a regular newsletter. Education is never a one time thing; it is always on-going.

A second key to successful enforcement is communication. Open communication between owners, board members and the property manager is essential to resolving problems before they become serious issues. All owners also should be aware that House Rules are not set in stone. Without compromising safety or discrimination concerns, rules should be reviewed periodically and revised to reflect changes within the community. Homeowners should be encouraged to add their suggestions to this process. All association members need to know they have a voice in rule-making and they also have the right to appeal violation notices. A property manager should always remember that an important part of communication is listening. Sometimes an irate homeowner/resident can be calmed down simply because someone was willing to listen to his/her story.

The third key to creating a better mind-set on House Rules is in consistent enforcement. Associations need to have a clearly defined procedure to be followed. It should include courtesy letters, warning letters, followed by an escalating fine system. Without such a system, rules are unenforceable and will be ignored by many. When a violation is reported, with the Board's verification and direction, the property manager should follow-up with the proper notification of violation in a consistent manner. This will ensure that residents do not feel they are being singled out. It avoids potential issues of discrimination. At the same time, owners need to recognize that if a violation is not reported, no action will result. It may appear to some owners that a violation is being ignored, when, actually, it was never reported. Again, communication and education are essential to creating a positive attitude toward House Rules and an understanding of their necessity. Everyone should know that rules will be enforced consistently to protect the rights of all residents. If most owners understand the need for rules, feel they have a voice in the process, and see that rules are enforced consistently, there should be less frustration and upset.

Having said that, disputes about House Rules will remain a part of the many challenges community associations continually face. The goal of the property manager should be to guide board members in the establishment of reasonable rules and the development of a policy regarding enforcement. The property manager should also be available to facilitate association members toward a peaceful resolution of House Rule disputes. Education, open communication and consistent enforcement are the keys to the most successful management of this often contentious area. The goal is always to work towards creating a safe and harmonious community where quality of life issues are addressed and all residents are treated fairly.

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