The Softer Side of Covenants Committees
Association committees are vital to any community association. The most important committee – so important that it is often the only committee required in an association’s governing documents – is the covenants committee.
While the covenants committee is very important, it is also the committee that most bears the brunt of wrath from homeowners, and sometimes legislatures and media, because it is charged with enforcing the rules and regulations . . . and most people do not like being told what they can and cannot do on THEIR property.
Although the association’s governing documents and architectural guidelines direct covenants committee members, there are times when committee members can get a little carried away and become “condo commandoes” intent on enforcing every little infraction. The next thing you know, you have homeowners showing up at board meetings protesting the harsh methods, incalcitrance and lack of empathy of the committee members.
Below are helpful hints to keep your covenants committee responsive and friendly, all the while maintaining a beautiful community.
Know Your Role: There should be a charter, also known as a job description or structure, that details the mission statement, goals, objectives, organization, communications, reporting requirements and responsibilities of the covenants committee. This could include review of designs and applications and identifying covenants violations. Responsibilities should be spelled out clearly so that not only the committee members, but also the homeowners know what is expected.
The committee should prepare a policy detailing the process it will follow when a violation occurs. Once approved by the board, the policy should be distributed to owners and renters alike so everyone knows what steps the committee will take to enforce the governing documents as well as possible consequences for continued violations. The policy assures the owners that everyone will be treated fairly and uniformly, and that the committee will not single out a violator for different follow-up or penalties.
It is also a very good idea to set up training for all new committee members after the annual meeting. This is a good refresher for the committee leaders as well as a learning opportunity for the committee members. Committee training is an excellent venue to explain how associations operate as a whole and how the committees, boards and management work together.
Great Expectations: The board should ensure that committee members understand the charter and comply with it. Committee members should not act independently beyond the scope of the charter, and board members should not individually or collectively perform the covenants committee’s responsibilities. The board and the committee members should understand and respect each other’s expectations.
Too Much Of a Good Thing: All too often, covenants committees will go above and beyond their responsibilities when it comes to the application process or violation reminders. While some can appreciate the added effort from their fellow volunteers, others may take it as patronizing and even harassing.
A checklist included with an application, pointing out necessary requirements specific to the request, is very helpful to both the applicant and the covenants committee. The approval process should include a caution that approval from the association does not release the applicant from or supersede any other review or requirement, in particular local government permitting and approval.
Also, other than a friendly written reminder, covenants committee members should not get into the business of face-to-face confrontations. Yes, covenants committee members are neighbors, but there is a process to follow. Knocking on a door every day to tell someone they need to put their trashcan in their garage is inappropriate and unacceptable. Let the process work as intended. On the other hand, a friendly phone call can often resolve the problem without having to resort to sending a formal letter.
Mayday!: The covenants committee/homeowner relationship is one of love-hate; owners love that you are protecting their property values but they hate it when they’re called to task for their own violation. When an owner disputes the committee’s determination of violation, the board should support the committee’s decision but still have an open mind with regard to hearing an owner’s appeal for reconsideration.
You Complete Me: Being a covenants committee member is often demanding and stressful. The board and manager should take the opportunity to show their appreciation. At board meetings, comment on the number of approved applications and resolved violations. Also, give thanks at the annual meeting and hand out certificates of appreciation. If your association has the funds, host a volunteer appreciation party. Remember, these are volunteers who have to police their neighbors. Do what you can to keep morale up and you will have successful, better-understood, motivated committee members determined to maintain the aesthetically-pleasing appearance of their community.