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Are you off-sides with your association rule enforcement?

by Kara Cermak, CMCA®, AMS®, PCAM® on Feb 1, 2018 8:31:00 AM

Offside in ice hockey is defined as “a play is offside if a player on the attacking team enters the offensive zone before the puck, unless the puck is sent or carried there.”  Wikipedia

When asked to write an article about association rule enforcement, violations and fines, I was asked to tie the article into the overall theme for hockey.  One may easily draw from this definition that perhaps an owner is off-sides when violating the rules of the Association, but we talk about that all the time.  What should the board consider to be sure they are not off-sides?

It is safe to assume that owners feel as if you are on the opposing team, and that you are the attacking team, don’t you agree?  So, to begin with, how do we change that perception?  How do help owners to understand that we’re actually all on the same team, and we’re all moving towards the same goal, which is a well-run community with excellent curb appeal?  Here are a few tips to consider BEFORE the need to enforce rules and regulations:

  • “Home-ice advantage” - The Board has this advantage.  You set the governance for the community and you interpret the documents on behalf of the community.  You are in a unique position to use that power for good or evil.  Seems strong, right?  I don’t believe it is.  

As leaders, we choose every day whether to encourage positive behavior, encourage volunteers, encourage differing points of view and consider them when making decisions, and we choose how we present ourselves to the community.  Do your meetings feel like owners are welcome to listen to the decisions being made by the Board?  Do your owners feel welcome at these meetings?  Do you let owners know that you are contemplating decisions, before you actually make them?  Is there a newsletter or some source that would allow owners to know what the Board may be contemplating before a decision is made?  Are you asking for volunteers to consider big changes in the rules and regulations? 

Is the Board being careful to enforce that which it is responsible to enforce?  In other words, are you sure that you have the authority to enforce what you’re contemplating?  Are you sure that your rule interpretation does not fly in the face of your Declaration or with state law?  This is where your coaching staff is really key.  Your management team should be able to guide you with respect to the formation of rules and regulations, and your attorney should ALWAYS be consulted prior to adopting new rules.  There are notice requirements, before the rule is adopted, and it is important that the rule you are establishing is something that you are able to control with simply a rule.  There are basic ownership privileges that can only be amended by adopting a change to your Declaration – for instance, pet restrictions and limiting rentals within the community.

  • Is the owner taking a “dive”? We all know what this feels like.  The hockey player was barely touched and he throws himself against the hockey wall, and falls to the ice, to embellish the contact.  It is risky, because that player can be called for a penalty for attempting to take that dive, but if they are really good at it, it could result in a penalty for the opposing team. 

Let us equate this to the court system, where rules violations end up when they cannot be resolved amicably.  Sometimes an owner is willing to take a “dive” because they perceive that they are not being heard, and that the rules are unnecessarily difficult for the neighbors.  The owner that’s willing to take a “dive” usually has much more frustration with the community than one violation, but they’re willing to take their frustration the distance – often costing the Association a lot of money, and sometimes they’re willing to spend their own money. 

Don’t let the communication to fail in your community to the degree that owners are willing to take a dive. 

Be certain that your communications to the owners use an active and positive voice.  Instead of “Do not leave your dog outdoors unattended or loose” – perhaps you can explain the end result of leaving dogs outdoors unattended.  For instance, “We have received a few communications that indicate that owners may be playing with their dogs outdoors, unleashed.  Other residents may have a fear of dogs, and with the varying size of pets in the community, we want to explain how important this local ordinance, as well as an Association rule, is to our community.  Please be neighborly and remember to have your dog on a leash at all times, and completely in your control.”  When our communications to the residents Explain the reason for a rule, and allow owners to see another’s viewpoint, we can more easily enforce these rules and regulations.

  • Do not “drop your gloves” – do not instigate a fight, simply because an owner did not phrase their request in a respectful fashion. For community managers like myself, I have to constantly remind board members to read the request that may be within a hotly worded email from an owner. 

Owners instinctively become defensive when they are being asked to do or not to do something within or outside of their own home..  I cannot stress the fact that this is their home.  Therefore, a poorly worded email that may seem disrespectful is likely that owner’s first trigger reaction.  It’s difficult to see the request within a poorly worded communication because we instinctively want to deny the request because their communication is so out of line. 

So what does a board do?  My recommendation is to consider the request without the ancillary anger.  But I also recommend that when the response is sent to the homeowner, the Board stresses their desire to remind owners that it is their fiduciary duty to uniformly enforce the rules, consider requests from each owner, and maintain the consistency of the community for everyone’s benefit.  Remind owners how difficult it is to receive communications from owners that are filled with vitriol, when the Board is volunteering their time for the benefit of the entire community, and on behalf of the entire community. 

  • And finally, consider the “faceoff”. “The two teams line up in opposition to each other.”  One will gain control of the puck.  This is where the hockey theme goes awry, because I would consider the faceoff to be your hearing for a violation of the rules.  Why is called a hearing?  It is called a hearing, so we are sure to listen to one another.  At the end of a properly run hearing, or a faceoff in this analogy, the team that ends of controlling the puck should make sure that the other team understands why it is necessary, has fully listened to the distinct set of circumstances that brought them in control of the puck, and ideally, the other team leaves feeling vindicated on that level.  It’s shocking how simple it can be to make an owner feel appreciated, and their circumstances understood, even when we have to ask that they discontinue a particular behavior.  When we strive for understanding, the Association’s faceoff can end with two happy teams, each acknowledging the Association’s role in governance, and each having heard one another’s positions.
Hockey is beloved for a variety of reasons – it is fast pace play, the heart of its players and often, for the raw emotion that comes as a result of play.  But with community association governance, we need to remember to slow things down a little, remember why each of the teams has their heart in the game, and try to turn raw emotion into a learning experience for both parties

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