Association policies, though sometimes controversial, have a significant impact on your community’s reputation and can even influence property values. As FirstService Residential Regional Director Lucy Acevedo puts it, policies are “simply the compass that guides your association, ensuring every step taken is in the right direction.” Thoughtful and strategic policies shape the resident experience, help create a positive atmosphere in the community, and often protect people from physical harm or liability.

No matter what type of community you live in, there are some standard categories of rules you should always cover. Start with these 7 fundamental policies:

1. Collection policies

Do you have a clear, comprehensive, and fair collection policy? According to Acevedo, this is the most important policy that associations should adopt. A collection policy should be a priority for your association as it helps you maintain your financial health and ensures compliance with the law. At its heart, a strong collection policy establishes clear and thoughtful guidelines for dues, late fees, and delinquencies, which help promote timely payments, reduce conflicts with owners and ultimately pave the way for smoother operations and future planning. When implementing your collection policy, work closely with your association attorney to make sure you are following proper legal noticing procedures and enforcing the policy fairly across the board.

2. Architectural and construction policies

Architectural, construction, and aesthetic policies are key to establishing your community’s reputation and protecting home values. Architectural guidelines or rules relate to how residents maintain their homes. In fact, consistent upkeep of homes or units (e.g., painting exteriors, repairing light fixtures, replacing broken fencing) is necessary to maintaining a great environment and keeping property values high. Creating and enforcing these policies will ensure the longevity and desirability of your community for years to come. Associations should also include detailed guidelines related to aesthetics, such as exterior color choices, roofing material and color options, driveway colors, window styles and flooring (including sound padding for condominiums).

Sean Esteves, regional director at FirstService Residential, mentions another important policy that falls under this category. “Your association should also have clear rules and regulations specific to contractors. That means rules regarding licenses and insurance, work hours, access and registration of workers, parking, elevator use, delivery procedures, debris removal, protection of common elements, and smoking.”

3. Parking policies

Parking policies can come with some baggage, especially if any resident has been towed or faced a hefty fine as a result of not following the rules. However, parking policies are essential to every building and community and ensure residents have sufficient parking spaces and can easily enter and exit their homes without obstructions (e.g., double parked cars, recreational vehicles or boats, etc.). Additionally, parking policies should align with local laws to ensure residents have handicapped spaces available and emergency vehicles have access to fire lanes. For more best practices on parking policies, read our article.

4. Rental policies

Condos and community associations should have clear rules in place regarding rentals – including both short-term (e.g., Airbnb, VRBO, etc.) and long-term.. Reasonable rental policies can help your community maintain a sense of harmony by avoiding constant cycles of new residents or vacationers. Examples of rental policies include requiring a minimum number of days for short-term rental use or restricting owners from long-term rentals unless they have occupied their home for at least one year. Keep in mind that, as with all policies you create, your association must also comply with state laws. Most states allow HOAs to define restrictions around rentals, but some states allow for free use of property, even within the bounds of an association. Consult your association’s counsel prior to implementing new rental rules. For additional insights and examples related to short-term rentals, download our comprehensive white paper here.  

5. Pet policies

Having a pet-friendly community can be important to attracting new owners, but it also comes with potential challenges, like pets being left off leashes or complaints about excessive barking. Make sure you have clear and sensible policies in place to ensure a peaceful environment for both pet owners and non-pet owners. Some recommended options include waste cleanup policies or registration requirements for every pet residing within a home. Keep in mind that even if your association doesn’t technically allow pets, you are still bound to any laws that protect and provide exceptions to individuals with service and emotional support animals. Always work closely with your association counsel to make sure you are complying the applicable laws. For more examples and best practices, read our full article on pet policies.  

6. Holiday and décor policies

Seasonal décor can help create a welcoming environment for both residents and guests and can also be difficult to manage without setting basic rules. One example includes not permitting the hanging of decorations on shared condominium property and common areas because of potential damage to stucco or paint. Seasonal decor policies can also mitigate potential conflicts if residents are keeping loud music or lighting running past a reasonable time of night, or are still displaying holiday decorations long after the holiday is over. For a deep dive on how to approach holiday décor policies (without becoming a Scrooge), read our article.

7. Occupancy policies

Last but not least, providing clear rules and restrictions around how many people live in a particular unit or home is a necessity for any community, large or small. Occupancy policies protect residents from fire or safety issues that can come with overcrowding. However, always consult with your association counsel regarding occupancy policies, as there are local laws that may apply, and they also need to follow the federal Fair Housing Act, which specifies that you may not “place an unreasonable restriction on the total number of persons who may reside in a dwelling.”

But wait, there’s more.

Having policies that fit your unique community and support your long-term vision is key to enhancing your reputation and protecting residents from harm. Start with the 7 categories above and speak with your attorney and property management company to help determine any other policy gaps or needs. Some examples to consider include communication policies (to ensure clarity and consistency with community information), emergency preparedness policies, visitor and guest policies, facility use policies (to govern the use of shared amenities), records inspection policies, rules of decorum, and meeting policies (to provide guidelines around speaking duration, participation and more).

Next steps

What should you do after implementing a policy? Whether you’re instituting a new policy or reinforcing an existing policy, make sure you are effectively communicating and properly enforcing it. In fact, you may want to add a policy that specifically outlines how rules will be enforced, ensuring fair treatment of residents and owners. Rule enforcement must be in compliance with statute so consult your association’s counsel. For more policy best practices, read our article Association Policy 101: Make Homeowner Association Rules Without Making Enemies.

Monday May 20, 2024