Creating Effective Condo Association Policies

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The job of a Condo Association is to govern, a key part of which involves creating effective Condo Association policies.  Policies run the gamut – everything from how the Association deals with pets, the behavior of Owners, and even employee management.  While not the sexy stuff that gets people excited (then again, what is sexy in an Association?), creating consistent and effective policies in your Association is a key to having a better Condo life.  

The keys to success are: a clear problem definition, enforceability, communications, and perhaps most importantly, not making more policies than you need to.

Problem Definition

Many people like to joke – correctly – that Associations have rules for everything.  From my time on a Board, I’ve realized that part of the reason for so many rules is that Owners are constantly coming up with new ways to shit on their neighbors – worth noting, sometimes with pets, this is a literal problem.  That said, the first thing a Board needs to do is clearly define the problem.  What isn’t working?  How do we measure success?  

For example, say Owners’ dogs are peeing on flowers — which the Association just spent lots of money on — and killing them.  You might understandably want to stop this behavior, because everyone likes happy flowers, not sad dead peed-on flowers.  

You see cute dogs.  I see flowers that will be murdered soon by these heartless urine machines.
Don’t be fooled by the adorable dogs. Without effective condo association policies, the flowers will soon be murdered by those heartless urine machines.

Our problem definition is that Owners are not controlling where their pets are urinating, leading to the damage and destruction of Association property.  We want a policy that will encourage Owners to control their pets and have them urinate on something else.  Success will be measured if Owners’ animals stop peeing on and killing our flowers.  Conversely, a poor definition might be “Pets are out of control and we don’t want them in common areas.”  This would be using a baseball bat to kill a fly, as opposed to using a fly swatter.

Enforceability

There’s a saying that you should never pass a law that you can’t enforce.  This hasn’t stopped any state or federal lawmaker from making silly laws, but it is good advice nonetheless.  Effective Condo Association policies must be enforceable to be effective.  Your job – in advance – is to figure out what it will take to enforce the law effectively.

Take our previous pet example.  If pets are urinating on our precious flowers, and we’ve now outlawed that behavior, how do we expect to catch and then punish our dastardly dog Owners?  Do we expect other Owners to tattle on them?  Are we going to install cameras and have staff review the footage and identify the perpetrators?  Should we establish a pet registry with photos and DNA samples (definitely establish a pet registry, by the way – photos for sure, DNA depends on how bad your problem is)?  Perhaps we can have our Association staff patrol and write up any offenders who get caught?

My advice is that tattling is generally not a good enforcement mechanism – if your intent is to actually catch people.  Unless behavior is egregious, Owners don’t like to tattle, and when they do, they’ve often got a beef with the individual they’re tattling on.  If enforcement is a priority, my advice is to install cameras to monitor the situation.  If pets are really destroying an area, you should see if you can position a camera there, for example.  Another alternative is to have staff regularly patrol the area (say, once an hour or two) to support enforcement.  

An exception to the enforceability concept is that sometimes you’ll create a rule with intentionally vague enforcement simply so if someone is being a bad neighbor, you’ve got something on the books to for the rare cases where people aren’t playing nice and you need a rule to promote positive behavior.  An example might be a rule limiting the usage of exercise equipment or a grill to an hour max.  Rarely does an Association run around with stopwatches timing the usage of a grill, but if you’ve got That Guy who thinks it’s “his” grill vs. the Association’s – if you don’t have the rule, you can’t punish him.  

Looks like we've got a case of condo association negligence.
Looks like the victim and the perp got into it over grill usage rules. Too bad their Board didn’t create effective policies to prevent this tragedy.

Finally, there’s the issue of fines.  Fines are a necessary evil for most behaviors, but should be used sparingly.  Remember, fines are designed to discourage bad behavior, not generate revenue.  You’re an Association, you’re not a municipality setting up a speed camera to make money.  I recommend building in escalation clauses for repeat offenders when it comes to fining.  Generally you should start with a standard “Cease and Desist,” but if people aren’t getting the picture, start fining at low amounts ($50-$100) and escalate each time until they get the idea – double the fine each time, and warn the violator you’re going to do exactly that starting with the first fine.  Some people unfortunately really need to get whacked by a $500 fine to knock off bad behavior.

Communications

When communicating, there are good principles to follow.  Good communications are incredibly important to creating effective Condo Association policies.  Explain why you’re making a new rule.  If some Owners are acting in a manner which is truly disruptive to the rest of the Association, call out the behavior (never call out the individuals, that’s inappropriate) – make sure Owners understand you aren’t just making policies because you’re bored.  But a little shame doesn’t hurt.  Make it clear since people can’t follow common courtesy, as a Board you’re acting to protect the whole.

When Possible, Avoid Making Policies by Being Clever

The secret to effective Condo Association policies is finding ways to solve problems without creating more policies.  Think outside the box.  Getting back to our flowers example, maybe you can install a decorative fence that will look nice and keep the dogs away from the flowers and spare everyone another policy.  You might consider urine resistant flowers, although if enough dogs are peeing on them, nothing is urine resistant.  If people aren’t closing doors that egress in and out of the building, instead of a policy “Residents shall close doors” – which is very hard to enforce –  install self-closing doors or door buzzers.  

Remember: whenever possible, take the people part out of the equation.  It will save you trouble in the long run.  But if you have to make a policy, make sure you’re making a good one.  Following these tips will give you a great start to ensuring you have effective Condo Association policies in your community.  


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