It’s a topic of discussion at every Board meeting – who’s following the rules and who isn’t. People choose to live in community associations because they want to preserve their property values, but if the board and management aren’t enforcing rules uniformly, success will be an uphill battle. And on top of this frustration is another frustration: no one wants to receive a violation notice. It all paints a picture that portrays covenant compliance as completely unmanageable. But this doesn’t have to be the case.
If boards make an effort to prevent violations in the first place, the net effect will be less-stressed board members, happier residents and all around more beautiful communities all year long.
So what’s the key to managing covenant compliance? Education. Without it, communities can find themselves going in circles where board members are frustrated with homeowners not following rules and homeowners are frustrated with board members because they don’t necessarily understand all the rules. With the tips below, you can break this vicious cycle by closing the knowledge gap with your residents, which will ultimately ensure better overall compliance.
1. Give New Residents an Orientation. Reach out to new residents and offer them the chance to sit down with management, the board and/or the covenant compliance committee. This not only serves as an official welcome to the neighborhood, it also allows the board to tell newcomers everything they need to know to take full advantage of community living – which should include an explanation of how covenants benefit the community and how to avoid the most common violations.
2. Create Easy-to-Read Versions of Important Documents. We’re all busy, and reading through governing documents isn’t often a high priority for homeowners. But you can help them absorb the most important information for their day-to-day community living by condensing your documents into a brochure or booklet that’s written in laymen’s terms. This is especially helpful for your rules and regulations.
Another document that will save headaches for both board members and homeowners is a maintenance matrix. By creating a simple chart that clearly indicates who’s responsible for tasks like lawn maintenance, irrigation and external painting, you’ll take ambiguity out of the equation – and therefore, more violations.
For each of these documents, it couldn’t hurt to run them by your attorney to ensure that nothing is missed. When they’re complete, add them to your homeowner welcome packet, distribute them as handouts during orientation and post them on the community website so that they’re always easily accessible.
3. Communicate Proactively. Your board can communicate much more quickly by using different media outside of mailers, such as email, your community website, or social media. But you can also communicate in more strategic ways that will serve to improve compliance. For example, in Florida it rains most of the summer, causing discoloration of the roof tops from algae growth. As a result, homeowners need to ensure their roofs are pressure-washed or treated regularly. A board in Florida that’s chosen to proactively communicate might send out a reminder of this seasonal need to homeowners several weeks before citing homeowners with violation notices. They could even broker a deal with seasonal service providers on behalf of homeowners and include that information in the reminder. By doing so, the board makes following the covenants easier and increases the likelihood that homeowners will get their roofs cleaned on time.
Despite our best efforts though, violations still happen. But even in these situations, quality communication can help the violation get resolved while preserving the relationship with the homeowner. Take a first violation, for example. Instead of sending a letter, why not leave a door hanger with a note explaining the violation and possible next steps in a neighborly way? This can help maintain both the covenants and a friendly relationship with homeowners while possibly saving the association money.
These tips will help increase covenant compliance, reduce the number of violations and build the relationship between homeowners and board members. By implementing these ideas, your association will be closer to achieving its vision of creating a beautifully maintained community with engaged residents for years to come.