As a board member, fostering the health, safety, and well-being of a homeowners’ association (HOA) is of the utmost importance. While many homeowners are comfortable with board decisions that improve or enhance community living, others are not. Despite the value HOAs offer, residents are often frustrated with their community’s rules and regulations.
Fortunately, bad rules are entirely avoidable. Prevent them from surfacing in your community by examining their worth. The following are five crucial questions every board needs to ask before passing new rules, regulations, and policies.
1. Does your community really need another rule?
Creating new rules, policies, and regulations may not always be helpful. Carefully consider each rule and its short- and long-term implications. Often, new rules may require other expenses, like fees for consulting with lawyers or changing governing documents—costing your HOA time and money.
Take a holistic approach and ask yourself what the potential rule or policy aims to accomplish. Can that goal be reached in another way, or is there an existing rule that can be updated or changed to meet the same objective? Similarly, educating homeowners about current expectations may be enough to solve the problem your rule aims to fix. If you make efforts to correct any issues before jumping to new regulations, it can help build trust in the community and promote harmony.
2. Is the rule allowed by your governing documents and current laws?
There are limits to what your HOA can and can’t do. Every association must adhere to its governing documents and any applicable local, state, and federal laws. Failure to do so may open your board to conflict, scrutiny, or legal trouble.
To avoid issues, board members must become familiar with governing documents and other limitations. Having a firm grasp on existing rules, regulations, and powers will inform decisions, give context to future rule changes, and provide the knowledge needed to proceed safely and professionally. When in doubt, seek guidance from your community association manager (CAM), attorney, or other professional partners.
3. Is the new rule clear, and can it be easily followed by your residents?
Rules are often ignored because they’re unclear or confusing. Most homeowners are trying their best to be good neighbors and community members, and the rules should support, not hinder, their efforts to live within the association’s expectations.
When proposing a rule, think about the tools, resources, and details needed to make that rule easy to follow. For example, if you’re creating a rule about paint colors for front doors, here are some additional questions you may want to ask first:
- Are we providing a list of approved colors?
- Are those colors available locally for purchase?
- Is the approval process for door colors straightforward and well thought out?
- Does the rule explain things in plain language that’s easy to understand?
- How will we communicate the new rule to homeowners?
4. Is the rule objectively fair and reasonable?
Board members have a fiduciary responsibility to the community, and that applies to new rules and policies, too. Does the planned rule benefit the entire community and not just a few individuals or homes? How you answer that question will tell you a lot about whether you should proceed with a rule change.
Remember, all HOA rules, regulations, and policies can be challenged in a court of law. No matter how well-intended a policy may be, it also needs to hold up in a courtroom. The rationale behind any rule has to be sound and fairly applied across the neighborhood. Unfair rules that target a single homeowner may get your neighborhood in hot water. Always ensure you’re upholding your fiduciary responsibility, and when in doubt, consult your attorney and CAM.
5. Will your board and management team be able to enforce the rule easily?
Every good rule needs a practical enforcement plan. Rules that aren’t easily enforced are vulnerable to being ignored and broken, and without proper enforcement protocols, the board’s authority may be questioned. When considering potential policy enforcement, evaluate the structure for rules, fees, and fines and make sure the current rules are being fairly and uniformly enforced.
Also, don’t forget that your time is precious. If a rule requires an unreasonable amount of time and effort to enforce, then it may not be appropriate for your community. For example, if you’re proposing a new weight limit for dogs, think about how it’d be enforced. Do board members plan on weighing each dog individually? Asking tough questions upfront will help you create rules that can benefit your association and residents for years to come.
More About HOA Rule Enforcement & Creation
The way your association handles rule-making—and breaking—directly correlates to the success of your community. Read our ebook, “HOA Rule Creation & Enforcement: A Beginner’s Guide for Board Members,” to learn how to make good rules, enforce rules effectively, and more!