Self Management Guide: What defines well constructed rules

billionphotos-2568321Are the rules and policies new or have they always been in place? What about their enforcement? Has the enforcement of these policies been applied with consistency? Do the members know what is going on? Do they know who to reach out to with their questions? Let’s begin first with the enforcement of rules.
The rules intended to enforced 
Once the rules are agreed upon and adopted by the association, the Board has duty to the members to make their enforcement policies crystal clear. Examples of common problems with respect to clarification are often the best teacher; therefore consider the following examples.
Emphasis by way of illustration will weigh more toward homeowner’s associations because the difference in the responsibility of maintenance. In an HOA, owners typically maintain their home and yard where as the maintenance and control of the portions of a condominium that are visible to the public are controlled by the association.
Based upon many years of experience, the rules prevalent in many community’s documents are likely to be confusing. One rule may be very precise and well defined. Others are often vague – for example: one set of HOA doc’s call for yards to be maintained in A1 condition. Others state that roofs are to be substantially free of mildew. Condominium and Co-op docs often call for neutral colored window coverings and other condominium docs do not tolerate storage on porches and patios.
Therefore, clarification is the first step required of the Board. Owners cannot be expected to comply with board expectations if those expectations are not crisp, clean, and precise. If this seems confusing or overwhelming, it need not be. Read on.
Determining What to Enforce
Our experience over the last thirty years, confirms that the best place for a board to begin with an assessment of their community’s rules is with an inspection of one’s community.  Find some time when all of the board can comfortably stroll or drive the neighborhood together.  Discuss the landscaping and maintenance of the homes. Make a list of items that detract from the aesthetics of the neighborhood. Can you drive through your neighborhood ignoring many of the well-kept homes and beautiful yards, because it is the neglected eye-sore of a home or yard that grabs your attention. This is referred to as poor curb appeal. Poor curb appeal lowers the property values of all homes in a neighborhood.  Furthermore, note the homes and yards that make your neighborhood shine. Their acknowledgement is important; knowledge, discernment, and praise influence owners in understanding expectation and the best practices of good landscaping and home maintenance.
Reviewing Maintenance Issues in Light of the Community Documents
The Board has done their tour of the neighborhood. Now is the time to go through the rules set forth in the CCR’s and Declaration of Condominium.  The by-laws and articles of incorporation seldom contain rules, however, one should check for a recorded set of rules which if they exist, will be found in your document package. Communities with recorded rules are infrequent; however those rules typically enhance and add clarity to those listed in the CCR/Declaration of Condominium.  It is prudent to check the county records in any case because many communities are quite old. What happened 20 years ago, may not be recalled, but if it is recorded, it is the responsibility of the board to change it or enforce it.
You have your list of maintenance issues from your community walk through and your set of rules before you.  Go through your list of grievances and concerns and assign a section of the documents to which that item applies.
For example, vehicles without current tags or that are apparently inoperable would be affected by a rule relating to Parking or Storage of Inoperable Vehicles. Uncut yards and overgrown curbs would belong to the rule dealing with grounds maintenance. Trash cans visible to the public typically have a rule forbidding that except for days of trash pickup. Red blinds in a condo would be at odds with the rule calling for neutral colored window coverings. Stacks of boxes, laundry, cleaning supplies would violate any rule that prohibits storage on porches and patios.
For each maintenance item that detracts from the community or exists as a known violation
If this lack of clarity is typical of your community’s documents, then the first thing the board must do is define the many loosely defined terms that are subject to confusion, bias, and personal interpretation. This requires the creation or clarification of rules. Some states, Florida being one, have specific notice requirements to members advising them of upcoming meetings that will address creation and modification of rules.
Befoe we go there, perhaps the best place to begin is by illustration showing enforceable and unenforceable rule creation and modifications.
Consistency requires the officer to follow the enforcement procedures set forth in the docs and agreed upon by the board, be it with weekly, monthly, or quarterly inspections. Furthermore, if policy requires two letters, thirty days apart, followed by an attorney letter for noncompliance, then this is the only legal/enforcement policy for all neighbors. (In a latter article we will discuss exceptions, waivers, and resolutions, but this article is about duties and responsibilities).
Equally requires rules be applied unilaterally. If white blinds were required in a condominium, then the CO would issue warnings to folk with window coverings: tan, clear, and no blinds at all. The same concept applies in HOAs. If a driveway is to be free of oil slicks then all homes with that problem are to be put on notice. Other factors often interfere with equality. The CO may disagree with policy or believe that a rule is pointless. A CO with a weak, ineffective board that does not follow through with the  enforcement policy is likely to view the entire inspection process itself as pointless which often leads to inequality.
Without bias means without favoritism; bias has to do with relationships and is intentional. Where bias is the intentional disregard of association policy, inequality is not. If the CO’s next-door neighbor or friend has earned a compliance request, then issue it without apology. Bias often occurs because of sympathy for the elderly, infirm, and widows. Rather than waving or ignoring their violation, consider how the community can assist this person in bringing their home into compliance. If bias or inequality results in bending the rules to the advantage of one neighbor over another.  If policy requires a letter or door hanger, then that is the policy for all: not a phone call or a knock on the door.
Bob Moyer is the President of Vanguard Management Group, Inc. in Tampa Florida and a principal of U-Manage Online, a subsidiary of Vanguard Management Group, Inc.