Love them or hate them…homeowners association rules are a good thing.
They’re what keep your neighbor from having six washing machines in his front lawn or painting his house traffic-cone orange.
But no matter the benefits, some residents see their HOA as a totalitarian buzzkill and nothing else.
There are many things that can lead to an increase in HOA violations in your community, which can leave the board and other residents feeling frustrated.
But how do you get your residents to comply with the HOA rules without breeding resentment?
At American Home Team Realty, HOA management is our lifeblood. And we want every HOA community (even the small ones) to see the high rates of compliance that keep their neighborhoods looking great and working beautifully.
Whether you’re in charge of a large or small community, here’s how to get residents to comply with the homeowners association rules.
1. Knowledge is Power
The first rule for HOA compliance is to make sure everyone knows what the rules are.
Educate all new residents on the rules, regulations, and bylaws as soon as they move in. If your CC&Rs are confusing or the documents are hard to read, include a helpful cheat sheet that lists the most important points in an easy-to-read format.
And, because we live in an increasingly paperless society, make sure all HOA documents are available online. That way, no one can use “I lost my copy of the Bylaws” as an excuse for why they didn’t follow the rules.
If your HOA has a newsletter, e-blast, or a place to post flyers, remind residents throughout the year about the rules. If it’s been a while since the Bakers changed their house color, they might forget that they need HOA approval first.
2. Be Fair
Your community will lose respect for the HOA if the rules are too petty.
Dictating things like what time the trash cans can be taken out to the street or what color the flower beds should be will only breed resentment.
Make sure the homeowners association rules (and the subsequent penalties) are fair. If you only allow residents to install the most expensive style of fence, you’re going to see a lot of violations.
Inform residents of the reasons behind the bylaws. Rules against flashing Christmas lights might make you look like a Grinch, but if you explain that some neighbors find it a nuisance (or, in the case of someone with epilepsy, a health hazard), people might be more likely to follow it.
No matter how fair you try to be, there will always be room for improvement (as well as people who are left unsatisfied). Listen to residents’ opinions and assure them that their input is valued. Then, actually value it.
No, this doesn’t mean letting the residents dictate your rules and regulations, but cooperation is more likely when people feel they have a voice.
3. Be Consistent
As any parent will tell you, consistency is the key to compliance.
If you don’t enforce the rule about cars parked on the street overnight, why should residents expect you to enforce the one about street numbers?
Enforce all rules with all residents consistently, without playing favorites.
If that paver driveway violates the rules but you’re tempted to let it slide because “it looks so nice,” that’s not fair to other residents who may have been unapproved in the past.
The same thing goes for those ambiguous rules.
Let’s say your HOA rules (which were created back in the 1980’s) specified that fences must be made of wood, iron, or brick. If a homeowner wants to erect a vinyl fence, the HOA board must decide once and for all whether these types of fences will be denied or approved in the future, or residents will be confused about why they weren’t approved despite all the other vinyl fences they see on their street.
4. Stay Updated
Design trends and changing laws mean that HOAs need to review the bylaws regularly to make sure that they are still understandable, fair, and legal.
Every few years (and especially if you notice a lot of disputes) have the HOA board review the existing rules and regulations and update them, if necessary. (Make sure you notify residents of the changes.)
It’s also crucial to ensure that your homeowners association rules don’t go against local, state, or federal regulations. The law always overrides the HOA; the last thing you want is to be on the losing end of a lawsuit.
A good HOA management company like American Home Team Realty will be able to advise you of how to update your bylaws as well as your legal standing.
When Rules are Broken
No matter how careful you are about the guidelines, you will have to deal with an HOA violation sooner or later.
It can be a tense situation; after all, no one wants to be the one to sign their name to a violation letter that’s going to their neighbor.
When homeowners association rules are broken, here are the steps to enforcing it while stepping on as few toes as possible.
What are the powers of the HOA?
Before the HOA takes any action, you should make sure that it’s within its rights to do so.
There’s no use sending out a letter telling the Gregsons to take down their clothesline if the law supports their right to hang one.
Laws change all the time, so it’s a good idea to have an attorney or HOA management company to advise you of changes to the law.
Send a warning letter.
Rather than jumping straight to the penalties, it’s always best to send a warning letter to the resident first with a reasonable timeframe for correcting the issue.
Perhaps they haven’t been home a lot and didn’t realize their grass had gotten so long. Maybe they’ve been meaning to hire a painter to repaint the fence but haven’t gotten around to it. Perhaps they were under the impression that they had already paid their HOA dues.
A friendly letter could be just the thing to nudge the resident back into compliance.
Fines and liens
The most common penalty for a non-compliant homeowner is to pay a fine.
But sometimes, the residents who don’t comply with homeowners association rules won’t respond to warning letters or fines.
In cases like this, some HOAs might place a lien on the resident’s home so that—if s/he decides to sell the home and move—part of the proceeds would go towards paying their outstanding HOA fees.
An HOA Management Company Can Help
Whether or not you’re dealing with them now, the truth is that disputes are just a part of serving on an HOA.
At American Home Team Realty, we are a boutique HOA management agency. Our focus is allowing smaller communities to have the same hands-on management assistance as a larger community, making both board members and residents happier.
If you need help enforcing HOA rules in your community, give us a call today to see how we can better serve you.