Policy-Enforcement_thumbnail-1.jpg While addressing the topic of enforcing HOA rules and regulations may not be the most exciting task, approaching it in the correct manner can bring substantial benefits to your association. Implementing consistent and transparent policy enforcement not only ensures the smooth functioning of your association but also enhances the resident experience and establishes a commendable reputation among neighboring communities and buildings.

(Remember that it’s not your job as a volunteer board member to personally enforce policies or rules, but it is your job to make sure that the rules are consistent, fair and purposeful.)

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. Make sure that everyone in your association (including new residents) knows the what, how and (most importantly) why behind your policy.

    When creating and communicating new HOA rules and regulations, it is crucial to go beyond simply stating what they are and why they were made. It is equally important to explain how they will benefit your community in the long run. By sharing the reasoning behind your policies, you foster transparency and understanding among stakeholders.

    Let’s take the example of a comprehensive smoke-free policy. In addition to outlining the rule itself, the governing board should also clarify the reasons behind it. This could include compliance with a local law or ordinance, as well as highlighting the health and safety benefits for residents and the overall improvement in the quality of life within the community or building. By effectively sharing the "why" behind policies, you not only ensure clarity, but also enhance trust and cooperation among all parties involved.

    Simplify your message and prioritize clarity in your communication. Collaborate with your management company to create and disseminate this important policy. Take advantage of various channels such as newsletters, social media, your community's website, emails, and common area announcements. Your management company can also provide guidance on effective positioning strategies based on successful approaches used by similar associations.
  2. Create a transparent (and easy-to-follow) HOA rule enforcement plan.

    To foster a transparent and harmonious community, it is crucial that members are well-informed about policy enforcement. Apart from comprehending the essence, implementation, and rationale behind the policies, residents should also be aware of the consequences of violating them and how to respond if such a situation arises.

    Additionally, they should understand what the potential fines will be and how they will be collected. Here’s an example of what a transparent, easy-to-follow enforcement plan looks like:

    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: It is important to note that your specific process may vary from the example provided above, depending on factors such as best practices, communication methods utilized by your association, and local laws. For instance, the Nevada Revised Statutes require that a fine can only be imposed on a member of the homeowners' association after they have received a written notice that includes relevant details such as a photo (if applicable), information about the violation, steps needed to resolve it, the amount of the fine, and the date, time, and location for a hearing. To ensure compliance with best practices and your governing documents and local laws, it is advisable to collaborate with your management company.
  3. Explain the policy enforcement process.

    To ensure that residents fully understand and adhere to the policy, it is essential to provide clear guidance on what actions are required (or prohibited). Whether it involves the introduction of a new rule or providing additional guidelines for an existing policy, it is crucial to outline how residents should follow it and the consequences that may arise if they fail to do so. 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, rules and enforcement policies should not immediately be seen as something negative. In fact, they can actually contribute to fostering a stronger and more cohesive community over time. 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.

    The fourth step in effectively managing an HOA or high-rise is often the most crucial. It is imperative that your association, as well as your manager and management company, consistently enforce the rules. This may seem obvious, but it plays a vital role in maintaining a well-functioning and equitable community or building. When fines or rule enforcement are only sporadically followed through, it jeopardizes your association's reputation among residents and within the larger community. To ensure a positive perception and harmony, it is imperative to enforce the rules diligently and consistently.

    Inconsistent enforcement of HOA rules and regulations can also lead to liability or accusations of favoritism for your association. Moreover, when residents believe they can break the rules without consequences, they are more likely to disregard them altogether. Ensure you have a well-established process for enforcing policies to avoid facing adverse outcomes.
  5. Be consistent with how you enforce the policy or rule.

    Consistent and fair policy enforcement is crucial for maintaining a strong reputation within your association. It is essential that all residents and board members are treated equally and adhere to the same set of rules. Granting special privileges to certain individuals when it comes to policy observance can create resentment among residents and harm your standing within the community. In fact, in severe cases, it may even lead to legal action for discrimination. Prioritizing follow-through and fair enforcement is therefore vital for the well-being and harmony of your association.

    In order to ensure effective enforcement, it is important to remain consistent. However, there may be certain circumstances, such as emergencies or natural disasters, that could impact your ability or decision to enforce. In such cases, having an experienced management team by your side can provide valuable guidance in determining the best course of action. It is crucial to remember that clear communication becomes even more important in these challenging situations.
  6. Lead by example.

    As a volunteer board member, your consistency in enforcement is crucial. While it may not be your responsibility to personally enforce the rules in your community, it is vital that you set an example by following the rules yourself.

    As a resident of your association, it's important to note that the same rules and policies apply to everyone. Although it may be tempting to give yourself or a fellow board member some leniency, it's crucial to remember that residents are looking up to you and your board. Setting a positive example by personally adhering to the rules can garner more respect from the community. 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.

    Community visions and circumstances evolve over time, and it's crucial to ensure that your association's policies remain relevant. A set of rules that may have worked perfectly five years ago could now be outdated. That's why conducting an annual review of your HOA or high-rise policies is essential.

    When embarking on this important task, collaborate with your association attorney and management company and ask the following key questions to ensure that your policies align with current needs and expectations:
    • 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?

    If you revise or remove any existing policies, make sure you clearly communicate the change and the reasoning behind it. As mentioned, transparency and consistency are key when it comes to policies.

Will enforcing policies make us the “bad guy”?

Implementing fair and consistent enforcement of HOA rules and regulations can greatly benefit your association. Not only will it elevate the overall lifestyle experience, but it will also ensure that your association maintains a strong reputation within the community. However, it's important to note that not everyone will be won over by good policy enforcement. That's why it's crucial to create and enforce effective policies, while also communicating them respectfully to residents. By doing so, you can enhance your association's reputation and foster a positive community environment.
Disclaimer: This article is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice.
Wednesday September 13, 2023