HOA Rules: Why Clear Communication Matters
Bylaws and rules are an integral piece to the success of any homeowners association (HOA). They are put in place and must be fairly enforced by the board of directors while preventing unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of individual units or homes and common elements.
Often used to supplement the bylaws, rules are easier to create and change. Allowing boards to quickly respond to the evolving needs of the community. For example, an HOA may have a bylaw that states that owners require the board’s approval to have a hot tub on their deck. The supplementary rules for that bylaw may outline the types of hot tubs allowed, or whether or not a permanent structure is allowed. (Psst.. this is a real example of a bylaw in a local Minnesota Association. Hear what local lawyer Phaedra Howard had to say about it in our recent webinar: Understanding HOA Documents, Rules, and Regulations)
In Minnesota, the Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act (MCIOA) provides broad authority for associations to adopt rules regulating the property as long as they are not inconsistent with other governing documents. In some cases, some documents may require homeowner approval before the board can adopt or amend certain kinds of rules so it’s important to always reference your HOA’s governing documents. It’s also recommended that when you create new rules you have them reviewed by the association’s lawyer. This ensures the rule can’t be open to interpretation.
Establishing realistic rules that need to be upheld and meet the community’s evolving needs can be a challenge. To generate community support for rule changes, communication with the membership is key.
Here are some proven tips and best practices to ensure that your condo, townhome, or HOA rules positively impact your community.
HOA Rule Tip #1: Identify The “Why”
Effective HOA boards understand the importance of staying connected to their residents and working together towards mutual goals. When you proactively communicate the “why” behind a rule, you as a board can ensure that decisions are in line with the community’s best interests. While at the same time increasing resident satisfaction.
When creating a new rule, ensure you can answer the following questions:
Is it needed because of multiple resident complaints?
Has a new law or ordinance come up in your area that requires a rule?
Will this rule prevent or mitigate potential liability in the community?
Identifying your “why” can be straightforward, but in some cases may require a little more time and a deeper explanation. Either way it’s critical for effective rule adoption.
Before introducing a new rule, your board, association manager, and management company need to work together to determine why it’s necessary. Once you’ve accomplished that, you need to decide how you will communicate it.
HOA Rule Tip #2: Communicate the Purpose and Benefits
Now that you’ve identified the reason for your rule, you must effectively communicate that purpose to residents. In doing so, you can help them understand the benefits of instituting this rule along with why it will improve their living experience.
(Reminder: If you can’t easily communicate the policy to residents, the benefits aren’t clear, or it goes against the corporation’s bylaws, MCIOA, or local laws, take a step back. Ask yourself, is the rule reasonable, necessary, and enforceable? If not, consider reviewing the rule again with your management company.)
When implementing a new rule in the community, remember that they can be opportunities to allow additional activities or exceptions. For instance, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many associations relaxed limitations to enable additional activities and experiences for residents.
Increased understanding leads to greater agreement and most importantly greater compliance.
If partnered with a professional management company, they will have the resources and technologies to communicate effectively to your community. They will also provide your board with templates and best practices for communicating with residents.
HOA Rule Tip #3: Explain the Process
Keeping residents informed and engaged throughout every stage - from conception to enforcement - helps ensure that everyone understands a new rule. It also makes it easier for residents to comply without hesitation or confusion.
Explain the process of rule creation and enforcement to the community so that owners know what to expect. This type of information should be shared on a regular basis and can be done through communication tools like community newsletters or other communication channels.
In some cases, it may be beneficial to include homeowners in the process and not just inform them of it. While the ultimate decision to create a new rule is up to the board, if you allow your homeowners to provide feedback on a potential new rule, when that rule is adopted, residents will be happy to comply because they had a say in the creation of that rule.
HOA Rule Tip #4: Reinforce the Value and Long-Term Benefits
Even after you’ve communicated the new rule’s purpose and process, ensure you are reinforcing the long-term benefits. Work with your manager and management company on creative ways to communicate the importance of the rule. You may consider asking a subject matter expert to share how a particular rule might increase property values.
Reinforcing the benefits of all the association rules and bylaws should be done on an ongoing basis. This not only ensures new owners understand the benefits and values but that long-time residents keep these important rules top of mind. A good management company will help create a solid communication plan and strategy to strengthen the understanding of the benefits with residents and owners.
The Key to Easy to Enforce Association Rules: Communication
From creation to enforcement, the key to effective and reasonable rules is communication every step of the way. When owners and residents understand why the association has certain rules and what the benefit of them are, it leads to happier residents. Not to mention a stronger community.
This also greatly benefits the board. If your association has created realistic rules that are easy to follow, your board is spending less time focused on rule infractions within the community and fewer complaints from residents.
Learn how FirstService Residential can support your community in implementing HOA rules by contacting us here.