The pandemic that took hold in 2020 created uncertainty and required community associations to adapt to new norms and its policies and procedures. The country looked forward to a new year with new hope. A new year usually brings resolutions. With Spring around the corner and the vaccine rollout providing a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, it is a perfect time to take inventory of association policies and procedures. Whether this means decluttering outdated and cumbersome policies or considering new and improved policies, it is a good way to bring certainty and order to an association.
Running an association takes a lot of time and resources regardless of whether it is large or small. From overseeing budgets to deciding on maintenance and repair to covenants enforcement, to name a few of the many responsibilities, boards can be inundated with governing and operating their associations.
One way boards can streamline certain responsibilities is to adopt written policies and procedures, which create the framework to handle specific matters. Such policies and procedures should be in writing and memorialized in a formal resolution. In addition to providing an organizational tool for the board that promotes consistency and uniformity, they have the added benefit of notifying community members about how these matters will be handled.
Drafting policies and resolutions is not a DIY project. Before adopting policies and procedures, an association should consult with legal counsel to ensure it has the requisite authority in its recorded documents and they are enforceable as written, and to ensure they comply with applicable law and regulations and are tailored appropriately for the particular association. We offer our “Top 10” list of policies and procedures every Virginia community association should consider adopting. If these policies and procedures are already in place, they need to be reviewed every few years for needed updates and improvements.
TOP 10 RESOLUTIONS FOR EVERY COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION
- Standards of Conduct Policy
Owners and residents and their guests, board members, and managing agents should be free from harassing, intimidating, derogatory, demeaning and offensive conduct. A community association can adopt a Standards of Conduct Policy that affirmatively prohibits such conduct in all forms and encourages polite and professional interactions. Such a policy informs parties where to report violations and delineates potential consequences.
- Reasonable Accommodation and Modification Request Procedures
All Virginia community associations are subject to both federal and state fair housing laws. Pursuant to these laws, associations are obligated to make reasonable accommodations and/or reasonable modifications when necessary to afford a person with a disability equal opportunity to use and enjoy their dwelling. When considering such requests, associations need and can request certain information. Community associations should consider adopting a policy that sets forth procedures for submitting a request for a reasonable accommodation or modification, including the contents of such request, and how the Board will review and process such a request.
- Anti-Discrimination and Anti-Harassment Policy
As shared above, Virginia community associations are subject to the federal and state fair housing laws and regulations. Under the auspices of the federal Fair Housing Act, rules were adopted in 2016 that prohibit quid pro quo and hostile environment harassment because of an individual’s race, color, religion, sex, familial status, national origin or disability. In addition, Virginia fair housing laws protect additional classes based on elderliness, sexual orientation, gender identity, status as a veteran, and source of income. Federal regulations impose liability on a community association for its own actions, including that of employees and agents, as well an association’s failure to take prompt action to correct and end a discriminatory housing practice by a third-party (i.e. residents, guests, vendors, etc.). Community associations should develop and adopt policies that (a) expressly prohibit discriminatory and harassing conduct due to one’s protected class status and (b) detail procedures for reporting and responding to claims of such prohibited conduct.
- Assessment Collection Policy
The financial health of a community association depends on the timely payment of assessments. A collection policy notifies owners of assessment payment terms and enforcement remedies. For associations that already have a collection policy, it should be reviewed to determine whether an update is needed and procedures can be further simplified.
- Due Process Procedures
To the extent authorized in an association’s recorded documents or rules and regulations adopted pursuant thereto, associations may (a) suspend an owner’s right to use association facilities or services for nonpayment of assessments that are more than 60 days past due with certain caveats, and (b) assess charges against owners for violations of the governing documents. Before taking either action, the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act and Virginia Condominium Act prescribe certain procedural steps. A well-drafted due process policy provides a road map of these statutorily-required procedures.
- Association Complaint Procedure
Since September 29, 2012, every Virginia community association is required to have an association complaint procedure for members and citizens to file a written complaint regarding the action, inaction, or decision by the governing board, managing agent, or association inconsistent with applicable laws and regulations. A copy of the association complaint procedure must be included in resale documents and associations need to certify annually, when CICB registration is renewed, that they have such a complaint procedure in place. This kind of procedure is limited and specific to actions or inactions inconsistent with law and regulation. It does not include all complaints of any nature. Accordingly, associations should ensure they have such a resolution, and is so limited.
- Cost Schedule for Books and Records Request
Both the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act and Condominium Act permit associations to impose and collect a charge for the reasonable costs of materials and labor for providing copies of requested books and records. Such requests have time requirements and need to be responded to promptly. They can also interrupt regular business and take time, effort and, depending on the scope, cost. A cost schedule must be in place prior to an owner request for books and records and be provided at the time of the request if the association wants to receive payment for these costs. Associations should make sure such a schedule is in place.
- Member Communications Resolution
Pursuant to both the Virginia Property Owners’ Association Act and Condominium Act, associations must provide a reasonable, effective, and free method, appropriate to the size and nature of the association, for members to communicate among themselves and with the board regarding any matter concerning the association. Boards should consider adopting policies that address the association-approved platforms for member communications and the procedures for receiving and posting communications.
- Social Media Policy
Many associations have created their own webpages, Facebook pages, NextDoor accounts, etc. to better communicate with their members. On occasion, members have created their own social media pages that may cause confusion as to whether it is an “official” social media page of the association. In other instances, these “look alike” pages have been used to voice discontent and inaccurate information. To prevent confusion and maintain authenticity as to an association’s social media pages and veracity of information, an association should adopt a policy resolution that identifies the association-sanctioned webpages and social media platforms and include user policies for the respective platforms.
- COVID Policy Regarding Access to Association Amenities and Recreational Facilities
With the uncertainty of what the ongoing pandemic and mass vaccination efforts holds for the near future, associations may still find themselves in murky waters when it comes to opening amenities and recreational facilities for its members (e.g., pools, gyms, clubhouses, tennis courts, etc.). Associations should work with their contractors and legal counsel to develop policies and rules that address access to such amenities along with reasonable conditions for such use, including an assumption of the risk form.
Vandeventer Black has a knowledgeable and experienced team of community association attorneys to guide you. If we can help your community association prepare or review existing policies and procedures for compliance and changes, please contact us. We are here to help you navigate these extraordinary times, as well as the new normal.