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Carrot or Stick Rules

Written by on Tuesday, 02 March 2010 6:00 pm

Many rules enacted by homeowner association boards tend to use the Stick Method for rules which assumes folks need to be beaten to comply. The Carrot Method coaxes people into compliance by using guidelines that are reasonable and equitable. Guess which method works better to harmonize an HOA?

Carrotizing the rules takes thought and sensitivity. The "my home is my castle" mind set makes people resistant to picky and overbearing authority of Stick Rules. Some basic concepts in HOA rulemaking include:

  1. All rules should be enacted sparingly.

  2. Never enact a rule to control one individual.

  3. Only create rules that are necessary.

  4. Discontinue rules that have outlived their usefulness or were not well conceived to begin with.

The board should not involve itself in rule making that is normally handled by professional law enforcement. The police are far better equipped to handle drug dealers, out of control parties and domestic disputes. All such complaints should be referred to law enforcement by the parties most directly offended, the neighbors.

When it comes to HOA rule enforcement, it can sometimes seem that it's "who you know" that determines who gets enforced upon and who doesn't. If a rule is worthy, it should be enforced on everyone, including board members and their friends. This way, the board doesn't have to fight the arguments that so-and-so violated the same rule and nothing happened or that the board is immune from prosecution.

One misconception is that the board is somehow an "eye in the sky" looking for rule violations and smiting offenders. While there should be a regular process for certain violations like identifying and removing junk vehicles or cars blocking a fire lane, many rule violations are triggered by a resident who files a complaint. The board is not required to mount daily patrols to catch evil-doers.

When a resident files a rule complaint, the enforcement process should require the complainer to inform the offender and ask for correction prior to handing the matter over to the board. All complaints should be made in writing by the complainer either by email or mail. Avoid taking complaints over the phone. It's too easy to make phone calls at all hours of the night. Require that the details be put in writing or don't accept the complaint.

No HOA rule article would be complete without discussion of the Three Ps: People, Pets and Parking. These are the biggest bones of HOA contention. Dealing with them correctly requires detailed rules.

  • People Rules deal with disturbing the neighbors, commandeering or changing the common elements, maintaining the homes according to design standards and rental restrictions.

  • Parking Rules get into the nuances of vehicle type, number, condition and where parking is allowed.

  • Pet Rules is one of the hottest HOA rule issues there is, particularly for those that don't want to adhere to them.

The board needs to take great care in developing Three P Rules because there are often many moving parts and someone is bound to get offended along the way. That's not a reason to not have them, just expect blow-back and make sure the rule is carefully thought through and being adopted for the greater good.

To gain the greatest rule compliance, always always always circulate proposed rules to the members for a minimum 30 day review period. This way, all are put on notice and given a chance to vent and buy in.

Carrotizing rules means less smiting and more compliance encouragement. All rules enacted should reflect the intent to improve neighbor relations. Living in close proximity is the norm in HOAs requires some degree of personal sacrifice. But the sacrifice is more palatable when the goal is the common good. As the great philosopher Bugs Bunny crooned, "Eating carrots is divine, you get a dozen for a dime, it's maaaaagic!"

For sample rules, see Policy Samples section.

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  About the author, Richard Thompson

Individual news stories are based upon the opinions of the writer and does not reflect the opinion of Realty Times.