How To Create Good Rules for Your Homeowners Association
Homeowners Associations (HOAs) need rules to keep order, but things can get nasty if they're taken too far or unfairly and inconsistently enforced. By establishing a solid set of HOA rules, your association's board of directors and the property manager will have an easier time implementing and enforcing them; make them clear and communicate them regularly with residents, and the job of enforcement should be even easier.
Ideally, an association's rules and policies don't create problems or single out any one resident. The board must put the community first to create a harmonious environment and enhance property values. Finding the right balance can be tricky, so we've created some guidelines that can help.
1. Use Common Sense.
This one may seem obvious, but we've seen it many times. The board should seriously assess if a new policy is necessary and the potential implications attached: Ask yourself if the new policy will create more problems as a result.
The board should find a good balance between providing the safety of homeowners, protecting their freedoms (i.e. unreasonably limiting the activities of residents) and safeguarding property values. A lot easier said than done, but never let political or personal pressures influence your decisions as a board when it comes to establishing HOA rules or policies.
2. Know the Limits.
Your HOA's policies should be consistent with your governing documents and in sync with any Minnesota state, county and city laws/ordinances, and if applicable, the MCIOA statute. Refer to your governing documents as they might require a homeowner vote before adopting new HOA policies. If they don't, boards always have the option of gaining consensus from the membership before establishing a new rule, but be careful. It's also wise to run a draft by your association's attorney to make sure they don't violate any of the above.
3. Focus on the Outcome.
The board should always ask themselves what they hope to get out of each new rule and create a specific outcome in mind. That said, it's also important to establish a consequence that fits the violation. Please keep in mind penalties are not meant to be a main source of income to the association; instead, they are supposed to deter residents from violating the rules.
4. Review HOA Rules Often.
It's excellent practice to examine the HOA rules regularly to determine if they still make sense and apply to the current environment. If not, consider eliminating irrelevant rules or update them to match the times. With technological advances and changes in the legislature - it's unrealistic to think that our HOAs won't keep pace.
5. The Three C's of HOA Rules - Clear, Consistent and Communicate.
If your HOA rules are written in a simple, straightforward manner, residents should be more apt to comply - as long as you properly communicate them. A lot of thought went into deciding on rules for your community - you should ensure your residents understand the rationale. Want to learn how to communicate so HOA and Condo residents listen? We've got tips.
Be clear – Don't use legal terminology or jargon. Write the HOA rules using simple terms. It's okay to refer to Minnesota state, county or city ordinances if necessary. If your association's policies are not easy to read, homeowners will have a hard time following.
Be consistent and fair – Nobody likes it when the teacher plays favorites unless, of course, you are the favorite. Consistently and fairly enforce rules and policies across the board (no pun intended). Inconsistent rule enforcement is a great way to encourage residents to disregard them, so it applies to everyone if there's a rule. Remember, being on the board isn't always smooth sailing, so the smoothest path is to remain fair and consistent. Keep in mind that board members are also subject to the HOA rules. The best way to gain consensus and encourage compliance is for the board to lead by example and always adhere to the rules.
When a resident breaks a rule, act swiftly and fairly. Provide the violating homeowner proper notice of their action, along with a clear description of the consequences. Then, listen openly to their side of the story. Don't forget; homeowners have the right to legal counsel if they feel their treatment is unfair.
Communicate – This is especially important with new rules; if residents are not aware the board made changes or added additional policies, they can't adapt to them. In the state of Minnesota, amendments to the rules and regulations are not effective until they are disseminated to the members. However, don't wait for the board to establish new rules to communicate.
It is best practice to regularly share your HOA's rules, especially in Minnesota, where different restrictions can apply during different seasons. For instance, let's say it's almost summer; it is a good practice for the board (or property manager) to communicate the pool rules every year right before the pool opens. Let's be honest, in today's society, where everyone is running a million miles a minute, we can all use reminders now and again.
Please note, thorough and consistent communication applies when determining the penalties as well.
Check out other Board Communication Best Practices.
6. Allow Exceptions for Unusual Circumstances
No rule can apply to every situation, so always be open to making exceptions if the situation warrants. Be prudent in your enforcement and make sure the board has been mindful when the situation dictates it. Apply similar consideration to other similar exceptional circumstances.
7. Ignore Anonymous.
If the board receives a complaint from an unverified source or a homeowner refuses to be named, don't act on it. A credible complaint will come from a person who is willing to stand behind it. This tip will also be helpful during board meetings. Take all complaints seriously, but use your best judgement.
8. Don't Forget the Date.
Always date each version of your Rules and Regulations; include page numbers and the most recent updated date on every page in the footer.
Rules should work in favor of your association, not against it. Use these tips as a baseline for creating or revising your rules and regulations to improve the overall community. Homeowners who are happy living together are more likely to abide by the rules, especially when policies are fair.
Be just, be swift and be flexible. Your rules and regulations should help keep your association safe, peaceful and create a sense of community.