By Sabrina Lopez, CMCA, AMS, Westwind Management Group
In most associations, it seems that doing that weekly drive to find those owners in non-compliance is the rage lately or has it been for some time now? Do you find that this brings a sense of community to those living in your association when they get this violation letter in the mail? I have come to find that many owners on the other side of those violation letters don’t seem to feel that way. Just think about if you maybe just moved in or bought that fancy lawn ornament and then got a nasty gram in the mail about how it is in violation and must be removed immediately. How would you feel? While I completely agree that the association board has a duty to enforce the governing documents, maybe there is a better way to bring in a sense of community along with such enforcement. Can we stop for just a minute to think about how we would view the association we just moved into or have lived in for some time after reading a violation letter received for that new beloved lawn ornament? What can we possibly do to ease the harsh punishment of a letter arriving in your mail and potentially making you feel that your community is a bunch of lunatics on a path to send letters for every little thing you do and love?
I would think that a reminder letter is a great way to begin. Rewording the letter to say “Hello fabulous owner in our loving association, we love your new lawn ornament, but unfortunately such a beauty is not currently allowed in your front yard. While we think it is a great purchase, the documents just don’t allow for it at this time. Maybe you can help us take a look at the documents to see if they need updating. If you are interested in helping us take a look at this, maybe, just maybe, we can allow such lawn décor to be placed in your front yard. They are likely in need of an update anyways and committee volunteers are certainly helpful in getting things as such updated.” WOW! Doesn’t that just come across so much better than “Dear Homeowner, you are in violation of our covenants and your lawn ornament must be immediately removed. If you do not remove it, you will be fined.” YIKES! I would not be too keen on my community if I got that verbiage instead. You see what I mean - the message has to come across differently, otherwise it just seems like harsh punishment as mentioned before. What a better community to live in if the message was a bit softer and more welcoming, right?
Now I am not suggesting you go out and rewrite every violation letter; what I am saying is maybe we need to be a bit more kind in our message. Form templates are easy and make our work simple by using a standard template letter to send out to all those in violation from our compliance drive but think about the receiver and the tone you will get on the phone call or email received from them after. That gut feeling after one of those doesn’t feel great. A little time and effort to acknowledge their situation and the approach that “we could use your help,” could go a long way. Especially on a first notice.
Another approach is reminders in your newsletters. I know most associations send out a monthly or quarterly newsletter (and if not, you should). This gives the owners a gentle reminder of the rules of the community. Think about a spring newsletter as we tend to see an increase in violations during the spring and into the summer months. The newsletter could be a great beginning to a better violation year by simply putting in reminders about those common violations we see, potentially reducing the number of violations we have to send out during this busy season. Remind them of items placed in their front yards and on their homes, to look at their homes to see if they may need paint, to maintain their lawns and oh boy those pesky weeds we so often have to send letters out on. Make the newsletter fun and inviting so people want to read it. Mention that these are things that the owner will want to do or to avoid if they don’t want to receive a compliance letter in the mail. I, for one, would read a well written and fun to look at newsletter and try to do whatever I can to avoid those nasty grams in the mail. A sense of community, that is what I think most owners want. Think about how we can bring this to all associations, making it a more peaceful place with less owners upset about how they cannot do certain things in and around their homes. Bring that sense of community to your association today!
As a manager with 14 years in this industry, I think we need to be a little more caring in what we do, and how we approach things. We here at Westwind Management care so much about each other and I think that goes a long way in the job we perform and the love we have for it.