6 Tips for Community Managers to Prevent Selective Enforcement by an HOA

A hand tips a mini scale as a representation of selective enforcement

Here are six steps community managers can take to ensure residents receive fair treatment from the HOA board

Key takeaways:

  • HOA communities have rules and regulations that homeowners must follow
  • Ignoring the rules can lead to fines and penalties
  • Community managers must enforce the laws fairly among all residents
  • Failure to do so is called selective enforcement

All HOA communities have governing documents that have rules and restrictions on how residents can use their properties. These rules might put limits on landscaping design, house color, renovations, and exterior decorations and might even prevent a homeowner from renting their place out to tenants.

The rules are specific to the community and homeowners that break them could face fines and penalties. The HOA board’s job is to enforce these regulations. 

Selective enforcement becomes a problem when the HOA enforces a rule for one homeowner and not another. This can create legal and social problems in your communities and leave you with a headache. 

So, what can community managers do about selective enforcement? Here’s a look at some steps HOA community managers can take to prevent selective enforcement from becoming a problem in their neighborhoods.

1. Make the rules clear

The first thing a community manager can do to prevent selective enforcement is to ask the HOA to remove ambiguous language from the community’s governing documents. These documents should include clear rules any reader can understand, so nothing regarding enforcement is left up to interpretation by the HOA board. 

Each regulation should have an explicit reason behind it. Including arbitrary rules in the governing documents makes enforcing them more of a challenge because the HOA board might not understand why they’re present in the first place. It’s easier to convince the board and individual homeowners to agree to their enforcement when the rules are clear and everyone understands their importance and intent.

2. Document all violations

Community managers are in charge of sending out notices and enforcing community rules in many cases. As a result, putting everything in writing is essential to ensure this enforcement is fair for all residents. 

For instance, if the HOA puts restrictions on holiday decorations and you end up fining a resident for going overboard and refusing to comply, you’ll want to create a paper trail of your correspondence with that homeowner and take some pictures of the violation. The reason is that the violating homeowner could complain about other homes with Christmas decorations in the future, even if those homes fall within the allowable limit for adornments. 

By documenting violations and collecting proof, you can show the difference between the two situations if the homeowner accuses the HOA board of selective enforcement. This documentation also allows you to compare situations to ensure you’re fair to all community members.

3. Educate new homeowners and board members

Another way to prevent selective enforcement is to ensure everyone understands the rules. Community managers can start by presenting governing documents to new homeowners and board members and asking them to read the rules and regulations thoroughly.

From there, managers might make themselves available to new homeowners for questions and ask that they seek clarification on any rules they don’t understand. Encouraging homeowners to seek clearance before starting a renovation or other action that could break community rules is also advisable.

New board members must understand the governing documents because you don’t need them attempting to enforce the rules improperly. Implementing a training program for new board members might be the best way to accomplish this, as it will quickly familiarize them with the rules, so they aren’t enforcing regulations that don’t exist.

Everyone has a role when it comes to compliance. Community managers should work to ensure everyone understands their responsibilities.

4. Don’t make exceptions

Making exceptions is one of the most significant mistakes an HOA board or community manager can make since it leads to selective enforcement. Exceptions create expectations because the word is sure to get around the community quickly when a homeowner gets away with breaking a rule. From there, all homeowners will expect the same treatment, making the governing documents toothless moving forward.

This situation could also create questions about why the board granted one resident an exception and not another.

  • Is it because of personal relationships?
  • Was money involved?
  • Are board members also breaking these rules?

Allowing certain community members to break the rules while enforcing them on others is a textbook example of selective enforcement, even if there’s a very good reason for the exception. As a rule, encourage the HOA board to never make exceptions because it opens up a loophole you can’t close.

5. Use a lawyer

Writing rules and policies for an HOA community is a lot of work, and ensuring the language removes ambiguity is challenging. However, community managers can consult with a legal professional when creating these documents and putting them in place. 

It could also pay to seek legal services when developing a fair enforcement policy as this ensures the HOA board and your community management company are within their rights when fining residents or enforcing the rules. 

You can use a lawyer if there are selective enforcement complaints against you, as well. This legal representation is often enough to prevent the objection from escalating to the courts.

6. Hiring the vendors you need

Whether you require legal services or other vendors to assist your communities, seeking fully-vetted and experienced providers is always in your best interest. Carefully developing partnerships with the right attorneys minimizes your risk and should make selective enforcement less of an issue in the communities you manage.

VendorSmart’s vendor management platform puts community managers in touch with vetted and compliant vendors in various industries. This platform can help your management firm find legal assistance in your local area, in addition to landscaping, security, maintenance workers, and many more vendors. Use VendorSmart’s platform to find vendors today.