Community Associations Update - August 2011

Date: August 24, 2011

Some Rules for Developing and Enforcing Rules
By: Joseph D. Douglass, Esq.

Rules development and enforcement are critically important areas for condominiums, homeowner associations and housing cooperatives.  In developing and enforcing rules the board must be diligent, careful and resolute, but must keep things in perspective.  If an association's rules are not respected by the residents, or if rule enforcement is poorly handled, the result will be a decline in respect for the association, which can translate into greater dissension in the community, increased numbers of rule violations, and increased delinquent assessments.

In no particular order, here are a few important "rules for rules" which every community association board should keep in mind:

  1. A deliberate, step-by-step rule development process will help to ensure that rules will be well thought-out, legally correct, and, ultimately, enforceable. 
  2. A deliberate, step-by-step rule enforcement process will resolve most violations without the need for legal action.
  3. Our world evolves.  Standards evolve.  Rules must evolve, too.
  4. Don't take your legal authority for granted. Always check the governing documents and have draft rules reviewed by legal counsel.
  5. Rules can't contradict the declaration, bylaws, articles of incorporation or other governing legal documents.
  6. If you involve the owners and residents in rule development, you will end up with better rules, greater respect for the rules, and fewer enforcement problems.
  7. Inconsistent rule enforcement makes enforcement harder and harder as time passes.
  8. Rules involving easily verifiable, permanent conditions (e.g. architectural rules) are easier to enforce.  Rules involving intermittent behavior problems (e.g. noise, pets, etc.) are harder to enforce.
  9. Parking regulation comes down to three basic options: (i) no regulation, (ii) permits, and (iii) assigned spaces.  Generally speaking, less regulation means fewer enforcement headaches.
  10. Vehicle rule violations do not necessarily have to be solved by towing.
  11. "Fines" (if permitted by law and the governing documents) may be effective in some cases, but they have some disadvantages, too.  The point of enforcement is to bring about compliance with the rules, not to collect money from violators.  Also, before fines are imposed, don't forget to comply with all applicable notice and hearing requirements.
  12. It is important to make owners aware of the fact that the rules are being enforced, and that obeying the rules is important.  Communicate these facts, but do not identify individual violators.
  13. In enforcement, don't lose sight of the objective:  compliance.  Treat violators with respect and courtesy, but be firm.  Whenever possible, it is best to find reasonable, "face saving" ways for the violator to come into compliance voluntarily.  
  14. If you can't tell precisely what action or behavior is required to comply with (or violate) a rule, you need to clarify the rule.
  15. If you are not willing to do whatever it takes to enforce a rule, don't have the rule.