HOA Rule Enforcement

The key to a thriving community is learning how to enforce HOA rules effectively and fairly. While it may not be the most exciting conversation, it holds immense potential for your association's growth. Consistent and transparent policy enforcement not only ensures a seamless operation but also enhances resident satisfaction and boosts your standing among neighboring communities. Don't underestimate the impact it can have on your association's success. 
(Ensure rules are followed effectively as a volunteer board member. Your role is to ensure consistency, fairness, and purpose behind the rules, not to personally enforce them.)

Of course, it all begins with a strong foundation – meaning you’ve taken steps to create policies that are relevant for your community or building (to learn more, read Before Creating a New Policy, Ask These 5 Questions). After you’ve created the right policies, how can you ensure that your policies are easy to follow (and enforcement is clearly understood)? Start with these 7 steps.

  1. Explain the “why” behind HOA rules and policies.

    As mentioned in our policy communication article, communication and education are key when it comes to compliance. Ensure that every member of your association, including new residents, is fully informed about the what, how, and, most importantly, the underlying reasons behind your policy.

    Sharing the reason behind your policy entails more than just stating the rule and its purpose (e.g., to comply with a new local law or ordinance). It also involves elucidating how it will benefit your community or building in the future. For instance, here’s an example of how a board might explain the “why” behind a comprehensive smoke-free policy:   

    By implementing a smoke-free policy, we can ensure that our residents are not exposed to harmful secondhand smoke. In fact, studies show that 90% of buyers in our area prioritize communities with strong "no smoking" rules. This means that by adopting this policy, we can enhance our reputation with potential buyers and make our community more attractive and profitable. 

    Simplify your message to explain the reason and significance behind the policy. Collaborate with your management company to spread this message through various channels such as newsletters, social media, websites, emails, and common area announcements. They can also provide guidance on how to effectively convey the message, using strategies that have been successful for similar associations.

  2. Create a transparent (and easy-to-follow) HOA rule enforcement plan.

    One of the most important aspects of how to enforce HOA rules is don't keep your policy enforcement method a secret from members of your association. It's not enough for residents to just understand the policy, they also need to know the consequences and actions to take if it's violated. 
    Additionally, they should understand what the potential fines will be and how they will be collected. Take a look at this example of a clear and user-friendly enforcement plan:

    Sample HOA Enforcement Plan:

    • Step 1: Resident in violation of a policy receives a courtesy call explaining the details of the situation and the policy that was violated.
    • Step 2: Resident receives a violation letter, providing details on the policy and the offense as well as any fines required.
    • Step 3: If resident does not respond after a period of time, a second violation letter is sent.
    • Step 4: Upon refusal to comply after three communications, issue will be escalated to association attorney or violation committee for next steps.

    Please note: Your process may differ from the above sample based on best practices, association communication methods and local laws. For example, according to California’s Davis-Stirling Common Interest Development Act recommends that “a schedule of monetary penalties be included as part of a general enforcement policy.” Work with your management company to ensure that you are abiding by best practices and in line with your governing documents and local laws.

  3. Explain the policy enforcement process.

    Clearly explain what residents need to do (or not do) in order to follow the policy. For example, if you’ve implemented a new rule or given further parameters around an existing policy, you will want to share how to follow it and what will happen when residents don’t. Here are a couple of examples: 

    Master-planned HOA policy example: All homeowners, residents and guests must keep their dog(s) on leash at all times in common areas. Dogs are only allowed off leash in the designated and fenced off dog park. Residents who do not follow this rule may be subject to a $150 fine on the first offense as well as fines on subsequent offenses.

    High-rise policy example: All unit owners must only utilize the approved sound-proof flooring options when installing new flooring in their residence. Additionally, the work must be done by a licensed and insured contractor and approved by the association’s maintenance committee. If residents install unapproved flooring, they will be required to replace the flooring within 30 days or be subject to fines.

    Remember, not all rules and enforcement policies should be viewed as negative. They may help create a more unified community in the long run. Kevin Pennington, vice president of community management at FirstService Residential, said, “Not all HOA rules are limiting in nature; some are liberating, such as a new rule which allows certain activities (with limitations) that were not previously allowed, such as allowing off-leash pets in a designated area or dog park.”

  4. Follow through with enforcing association rules.

    Maintenance of a thriving community or building relies heavily on the enforcement of rules. It is vital, and moreover necessary, to ensure fairness and promote a harmonious environment. By diligently implementing fines and upholding established regulations, you safeguard your association's standing both within the community and amongst residents. Don't allow sporadic enforcement to undermine the respect and trust of your community. 

    Prevent legal issues and allegations of favoritism by consistently enforcing rules. Ignoring rule-breakers can lead to a disregard for the rules among residents. Stay vigilant in enforcing policies to avoid negative repercussions.

  5. Be consistent with how you enforce the policy or rule.

    Building and protecting your association's reputation requires consistent and fair enforcement of policies. Nobody wants to be part of an association that gives preferential treatment to certain individuals. This unfair practice not only fosters resentment but also damages your standing in the community. In severe instances, it can even result in discrimination lawsuits. 

    Please note: When facing challenging situations, having a dependable management team is essential. While consistency in enforcement is important, unexpected events like emergencies or natural disasters can throw us off balance. That's when effective communication becomes even more crucial. With experienced managers by your side, you can navigate uncertain circumstances confidently, making well-informed decisions even when it feels overwhelming to do so alone. 

  6. Lead by example.

    Lead by example as a volunteer board member, showcasing your commitment to upholding standards. While it's not your duty to personally enforce community rules, your consistent adherence to them sets a powerful model for others to follow.  
    As a current resident, you must follow the same rules and policies as everyone else. It might be tempting to give yourself or a fellow board member special treatment but remember that residents are watching and expect you to lead by example. By personally following through on these rules, you will earn more respect. Michael Nagle, board president for The Mark high-rise association, said, “We lead by example more than anything else. People are watching. If you have a board that isn’t leading by example, they can’t help themselves.” Essentially, the board will hinder any progress made by the association, because residents may see them as potentially biased. 

  7. Review and evaluate your policies.

    Stay ahead of the game and embrace change. While your community's goals and vision are important, it's essential to keep up with the times and update your policies accordingly. Don't let outdated rules hinder your progress. Stay up to date by annually reviewing your HOA or high-rise policies. Seek guidance from experts, such as your association attorney and management company, and ask the necessary questions to ensure your policies are still relevant and effective: 

    • Has our state legislature passed any laws that invalidate this policy?
    • Does this policy improve resident lifestyles and/or enhance our reputation?
    • Will this policy become outdated in the next year or two?
    • Does this policy remain relevant for residents and owners?
    • Has the current environment (e.g., a local emergency, natural disaster or crisis) created a need to change policies?

    Ensure clear and effective communication when implementing changes or removing existing policies. Transparency and consistency are essential elements in policy implementation, so make sure to provide the reasoning behind any revisions or removals.

Will enforcing policies make us the “bad guy”?

Consistent and fair rule enforcement will have a positive impact on your association, particularly in terms of elevating the lifestyle experience and ensuring that your association retains a strong reputation in the community at large. In fact, it is one of the most important factors to remember when learning how to enforce HOA rules. However, remember that good policy enforcement won’t win over everyone. Create and enforce good policies and communicate them respectfully to residents. 

Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
Monday October 09, 2023