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.
In this article:
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. A quick search online will turn up plenty of sample homeowners association rules and regulations. But, we have taken the time to compile a list of the policies your HOA can benefit from.
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. HOA 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 HOA email guidelines 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.
One question many boards ask is, “Can HOA board members email each other?” Although board members can email each other, you should never discuss or conduct official association business through email without giving notice to the membership and without the presence of a quorum. It is also not advisable to discuss issues through email prior to a board meeting and then reserve the board meeting simply for casting votes.
3. HOA 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. Social Media Checklist Policy
When developing your social media policy, it is worth asking the following questions:
- What is the association’s vision?
- What does the association want to achieve with social media?
- How will the association use social media?
- What will the association use social media for?
- Where should the association open an account?
- Who will manage and control the account?
- How often should posts be made?
- What standards should members abide by when using social media?
- Is a social media committee necessary?
- What should the disclaimer include?
- Who can visit the social media page? Will it be public or private?
- What posts are considered okay to post? What are not?
- Is there adequate insurance to cover the association’s social media activities?
5. 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.
6. Regulations for Meetings
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.
7. Recording of Meetings Policy
Some members may want to videotape or audiotape a meeting. Whether or not the HOA can deny this request depends on your state laws. In some states, associations can’t disallow members from recording meetings. If your state allows it, consider developing a policy.
You can choose to allow members to record meetings on audiotape or videotape. But, you must establish some rules such as where they can do so and require them to ask for permission first. If the board secretary wishes to record the meeting as a guide for taking minutes, you can certainly allow it. But, require the secretary to destroy the tape afterward. This will protect the HOA and the board from any potential liability.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. 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.
11. 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 and consistently follows the policy.
In some states, it is even mandatory to have an assessment collection policy in place. But, even if your state does not require it, it is best to create and implement one as a standard procedure.
12. 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.
13. Social Host Rules
It is wise to construct a set of rules for social gatherings within community facilities. These rules should tackle the use of alcohol, age restrictions, liability coverage, the use of vendors or caterers, and other details.
For instance, the HOA may require the host to seek permission from the board if alcohol will be brought to the facility. Hosts must also ensure that no person under the age of 21 will consume or serve alcoholic beverages. If the host will hire a caterer, they should vet the caterer and make sure they have the proper licenses, insurance, and certifications. It is also a good idea to require the host to obtain liability insurance, even for a one-time occasion, and show the HOA proof of such insurance.
14. 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.
15. HOA Drones 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.
16. 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.
Some associations may be able to completely ban rentals in their community. But, in some states, associations are prohibited from imposing such a ban. If you do allow rentals, make sure your policy requires the homeowner to notify the HOA and screen the tenant. Renter’s insurance is also a must.
17. 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.
18. 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.
19. 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
It is also important to understand the reason behind the application. In some cases, it is a matter of fair housing and reasonable accommodation. For instance, a homeowner might ask to add fake grass to a deck. On the surface, it might seem like an odd request and the board may deny it. But, it might be due to the deck being too slippery for the homeowner’s wheelchair.
20. 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 how each committee is formed, 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.
21. 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.
22. 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.
23. 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 need it. You can request 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.
24. Background Check Certification
Depending on state laws, your HOA may need to perform background checks on prospective employees, homeowners, or tenants. 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.
25. Ice Dam Policy for Townhomes
Ice dams can cause a lot of trouble for homeowners associations, so it is imperative to have a policy for them in place. In townhomes, the association is typically responsible for the roof, with homeowners only responsible for the attic’s ventilation and insulation.
This creates a problem when it comes to who must shoulder the burden of responsibility for removing ice dams since ice dams are a result of issues with both the roof and the attic’s ventilation or insulation. Your policy should clearly state who must carry the responsibility of ice dam removal to avoid any problems.
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.
An HOA management company can help you create and enforce different association policies. Look for the best one in your area today using our online directory.
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