Behind every successful homeowners association are effective HOA policies that govern them. HOA policies keep the community in order and residents secure. While HOA policies vary from community to community, there are some that should come as a given.
HOA Policies to Include in Your Community
Even though HOA policies are typically created when the community is originally built, it is important for the board of directors of every HOA to periodically reevaluate which HOA policies should be added to improve the quality of life within the neighborhood. If your HOA board of directors is considering what new HOA policies should be added to the community, it is wise to review the information listed below:
1. Dispute Resolution & Complaint Policy
The dispute resolution and complaint policy required for HOAs can often cause a great deal of confusion for residents. So, HOAs need to make clear how residents can complain about issues that arise within the community. HOAs also need to make clear how a dispute resolution process would work if there was a dispute between community members or between community members and the HOA. Failure to set these HOA policies up in the community can cause unnecessary disputes that could have been avoided otherwise.
2. Email Policy
There has been a great deal of legislation passed both at the federal and state level about emails and what policies organizations need to have for emails.
As such, it is wise for your HOA board of directors to seek outside advice about email policies and which potential email policies should be implemented into the particular strategy of your HOA. By taking the time to put these protocols in place, you may be shielding your HOA from legal liability later on.
3. Social Media Policy
If your community uses social media, it is important to have a homeowners association policy in place regulating user behavior. This includes no use of foul language, no personal attacks, no rants, and no aggressive behavior. Additionally, social media should only serve as a way to keep residents updated.
Social media is a great communication tool that associations can take advantage of. However, it comes with its fair share of liability risks. Therefore, your HOA should take the necessary precautions to protect itself and its members.
4. Enforcement Due Process Policy & Procedures
It is quite common for HOA regulations to be violated by residents. Some of these violations are intentional and others are merely from not being properly informed by the HOA.
HOAs need to have clear policies about how enforcement will work if a resident violates one of their regulations. By making these policies clear to both new and existing residents, HOAs will have far less confusion and disputes with the residents in their communities.
5. Regulations for Meetings and Minutes
HOA board meetings can be quite difficult if not all members are in agreement or have different work ethics. Each HOA board should establish regulations for how long these meetings should take and how much time should be spent on each subject in the interest of productivity. If separate meetings are held that do include residents, rules need to be established for those meetings as well. Having clear protocols for meetings will boost morale in the community across the board.
Apart from the meeting itself, your HOA must also have a set of guidelines for the proper way to record meeting minutes. Having a uniform format for meeting minutes helps minimize confusion and maximize productivity.
6. Policies Regarding Neighbor-to-Neighbor Disputes
There will be times where neighbors will get into disputes. Perhaps one neighbor will not cut down their tree that is blocking the other neighbor’s view or a neighbor tries to build a guest house that infringes on another’s property line.
These issues come up periodically and HOAs need to be prepared to be the final voice of authority on neighbor-to-neighbor disputes in order to avoid hostile conflicts amongst residents that could hamper the community atmosphere. HOA board members need to think carefully about the best strategy that matches the size of their community.
7. Pet Policy
Even though pets are sought out by many residents, HOAs need to evaluate a consistent pet policy that has appeal for neighbors that may not want pets.
By establishing areas where pets are allowed to be and where they are not permitted, HOAs enable residents who may have allergies or who do not want to be around animals the ability to have a pet-free environment.
Some HOAs will limit the size of the pet that is permitted. Others will have noise stipulations that residents who have pets will be responsible for. HOAs that have the best results will have a consistent pet policy that is clearly communicated amongst their existing residents and any new resident that joins the community.
8. Service Animal Policy
The ADA and FHA have different requirements of what counts as a service animal. Generally, though, HOAs can’t reject service animals or emotional support animals, even with a no-pets policy. Have a standardized procedure that homeowners can follow if they wish to apply for a service animal request.
Additionally, your HOA board can ask for supporting documents like certifications. Be careful not to impose unreasonable restrictions, though, especially the monetary kind. HOAs can’t collect an extra fee from homeowners who require service animals.
9. Assessment Collection Policy
This policy should detail the process of collecting assessments from homeowners. It should include information on how to calculate assessments, how to collect them, and what to do about homeowners who fail to pay them. Having such a policy in place prevents disputes and possible legal action. Just see to it that your board strictly follows the policy.
10. Violation and Fine Policy
One area that HOAs do not like to manage is how to fine their residents if they have a violation. Fines are sensitive since they do cause residents to get angry. It is important for HOAs to establish clear policies about how violations and fines will be charged.
If residents are warned beforehand, it is much easier to reference a regulation to an angry resident than to charge a fee without any regulation to support it. HOAs that plan this out ahead of time has far fewer disputes with their residents than those that do not.
11. Towing Policy
Towing is another issue that can get complicated, particularly around the holidays. It is beneficial to have a clear policy about towing with signage around the community as well. Some HOAs have had success with parking stickers or badges that designate if a vehicle is parked in the proper part of the community. If residents are made aware of the rules, they will be able to give their friends and relatives the right recommendations to avoid getting towed.
12. Drone Policy
Drones are a recent invention that has caused a great deal of disruption in neighborhoods. Even though drones have become a popular toy for children to play with, they need to be controlled in communities to avoid excessive noise or invasion of privacy.
Your HOA should consider how to protect residents from the various invasions to privacy that drones cause so that residents have a clear understanding of how and when they can be used within the community.
13. Short-Term Rental Policy
Now that many websites offer property owners the chance to rent their properties, it can cause too many unfamiliar guests in the community. For HOAs that are in charge of condominiums, it is useful for the board of directors to decide what the exact policy is and then make it clear to residents what the expectations are to avoid an upset in the community.
14. Conflict of Interest Policy
Every HOA should have a policy laid out in case of conflicts of interest. Any board member who stands to gain financially from a decision should excuse him/herself from board discussions. For instance, if you own a landscaping company and your HOA happens to be looking for one, you should remove yourself from the discussion and subsequent vote.
15. Architectural Review Committee Policy
This committee evaluates and manages Architectural Review Change (ARC) applications from community members. Such a committee shoulders the responsibility of making sure any exterior property changes comply with the association’s CC&Rs. Your HOA must have a policy in place when it comes to selecting members of this committee as well as the review process for applications.
16. Application for Exterior Alteration
As for the application process, your HOA must have a standardized set of rules and requirements. Homeowner applications must include at least the following:
- Name of applicant
- Complete property address, including the lot and section numbers
- Property owner’s contact information
- A detailed description of the proposed alteration (including color, size, style, and materials needed)
- Visual representations of the alternations (scale drawings, sketches, pictures, plans, etc.)
- Sample color palate, if changing colors
- Projected start and completion dates of the alterations
- Signatures of neighboring lot owners affected by the changes
17. Standards and Procedures for Committees
Aside from the Architectural Review Committee, an HOA may also have other committees. Your HOA must have a set of homeowner association guidelines outlining the standards and procedures of such committees. This includes the roles and responsibilities of the committees, who they report to, and the processes they go through. Without such a policy in place, your HOA’s committees would have no direction.
18. Document Retention Policy
The average HOA produces tens of documents each year. Over time, such documents can pile up and take up space in your office. There will come a time when you need to get rid of some of them. But, how do you determine which documents to retain and which ones to throw out? How long should you keep each document in the first place? These are the questions you must ask when formulating your document retention policy.
19. Equal Opportunity (Fair Housing Policy)
The Fair Housing Act prevents housing providers, such as HOAs, to discriminate against potential homeowners based on a multitude of factors. This includes race, religion, and sex.
While this federal law governs all HOAs, it is still a good idea to have an equal opportunity policy in place. Such a policy should indicate that the board can’t reject potential homeowners from purchasing properties in the HOA community based on the color of their skin, religion, sex or gender, disability, or familial status. Having this policy also helps shield your HOA from legal liability.
20. Reasonable Accommodation Policy
By law, associations must provide homeowners with reasonable accommodations. Homeowners can request reasonable accommodations if they feel the association is lacking. For instance, a disabled person might ask the HOA to put in a wheelchair ramp at the entrance of the clubhouse.
While HOAs must comply with federal law, you must still have a policy regulating how requests are made. Ask the homeowner to identify what they need and why they don’t need. You can request for supporting documents if the disability is not immediately visible. However, some state laws dictate that HOAs must not request such documents if the disability is obvious.
21. Background Check Certification
Depending on state laws, your HOA may need to perform background checks on prospective employees and homeowners. Some states even penalize associations that fail to conduct such checks. However, due to the Fair Housing Act, you must be careful about what you ask. When constructing your background check policy, it is best to consult with an HOA attorney to protect both your association and its members.
The Right HOA Policy
Having the right HOA policies guiding your community can lead your association to success. After all, homeowners association rules and regulations define what you can and can’t do. These HOA policies keep the community in check and working in good order. In a lot of cases, they even shield your association from potential lawsuits. So, make sure to have these homeowners association policies in place. It may also help to ask experts for sample HOA rules and regulations to enforce.
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