Drafting the Best Rules for Your Community

The Board of Trustees in any Association is tasked with the awesome responsibility of balancing budgets, handling emergency situations, keeping detailed records, and generally making sure that the various elements of the Association are functioning smoothly — all while maintaining the core values of the community and keeping residents happy. Making sure the Community Association is operational and ensuring all residents are content usually go hand-in-hand, thanks to the Association rules enacted by the board. But sensible, important Association rules don’t just write themselves. In order for the Association and its residents to flourish, the Board of Trustees first needs to draft the rules that will encourage them to do so, minimizing conflict along the way.

Rule-Making Basics

Before tackling something like your Association’s pet policy, it’s vital to first understand the different kinds of rules in every Association: the bylaws and the rules and regulations.

Think of the bylaws as your Association’s “Constitution” that forms the fundamental structure of the entire organization. This includes election procedures, board member term limits, and other vital information related to the procedures and mechanics of Association management and decision-making. Usually, the bylaws are difficult to alter and therefore unlikely to change, the exception being if such a rule was found to be unconstitutional.

Rules and regulations, on the other hand, are far more flexible. Covering anything that isn’t addressed in the bylaws, these types of rules are more concerned with day-to-day happenings in the Association and might need to be revised more often depending on seasonal, demographic, or other changes in the community. Say, for example, that your Association has a rule that prohibits noise after 8 p.m. While this might have been an appreciated, sensible rule 20 years ago when the community residents were from an older demographic, it might need to be amended to better align with the behaviors of the younger demographic that has since become the majority in that Association.

Recognizing a Good Rule

Just because the Board of Trustees has come up with a rule for the entire community to follow doesn’t necessarily mean that rule is a good one. Board members are subject to the same biases, specific preferences, and other idiosyncrasies as any other person. But if board members allows these things to dictate their thoughts and behaviors when drafting Association rules, it could foment resentment toward the board, increase in-fighting among neighbors, and even bring about litigation and associated legal costs.

Generally, there are several valuable guidelines to keep in mind when drafting Association rules. They include:

  • Follow common sense when you’re making rules
  • Keep rules simple and easy to follow
  • Be consistent, but allow exceptions when it’s reasonable
  • Be results-oriented
  • Avoid extremes and reactionary rules
  • Make sure a rule is a solution, not another problem

Ultimately, every rule that the board enacts should be clear and purposeful, with the good of the entire community and its diverse needs in mind. When an elderly woman with a cane and a cocker spaniel racked up hundreds of dollars in fines for failing to comply with her California condo’s rule dictating that pets’ feet couldn’t touch the floor of the lobby, for example, that condo board should have probably reevaluated the common sense of that rule in that particular case.

Changing the Rules

In addition to drafting new rules, the board or Association residents might also find it necessary to adjust existing rules to better suit the needs and wants of the entire Association. While making amendments to the bylaws spelled out in the governing documents often requires a more extensive process and the assistance of a legal professional, altering the rules and regulations — such as those having to do with the pet policy or the community pool — is easier and more straightforward.

Any resident — board member or otherwise — looking to change an existing Association rule should first write a letter to the board that explains the amendments to the existing rule and asks for time to present the proposed changes at the next board meeting. Remembering that the adjustments to the rule need to be reasonable, enforceable, and, most importantly, concerned with something that the board has authority over will guide the amendment process in the right direction. Upon agreeing to the newly altered rule, the board should allow for a 30-day “notice” period, even if it is not required by the governing documents. This will not only give all residents time to become aware of and comply with the changes, but it will also reveal any issues that may arise with the amended rule.

While it’s important to be consistent in the enforcement of laws in order to protect residents’ safety and well-being, it’s also vital to remember that an Association is a place that residents call home, a place they expect to feel welcome and comfortable. No one resident should ever feel punished by a rule; rather, the rules should preserve the quality of life for everyone in the Association.