Q&A: A Few Good Bylaws

Q Our association is currently going through the transition from a developer-controlled board to a member-controlled board, and as one of the first members of the new board, I’m concerned about drafting our new rules and regulations. Some of my co-members feel that we should try to cover all the bases from the start—others feel that we’d be better off with fewer rules right off the bat and should play it more by ear as our community’s needs arise. What’s the best policy for new boards when it comes to working with developers and drafting bylaws and association rules?

—Union County Board Member

A According to Dennis Casale, an attorney with the Princeton-based law firm of Pepper Hamilton, which works frequently with developers building condo communities, “The key to a successful set of bylaws is flexibility. Generally speaking, the fewer bylaws the better. No developer or lawyer can really have a good sense of homeowner needs before a development is complete, and communities tend to create their own personalities—and because of that, it’s better for the community to decide how they want to live. Of course, you have to set up the rules of governance and establish other important elements, but try to put as few rules in your document as possible. And you should make it as easy as possible to amend the documents after the homeowners take control [of the board]. The board needs to keep in mind the idea of individuality; one of the worst mistakes a board can make is taking a one-size-fits-all attitude toward drafting bylaws. You can’t draft bylaws that will anticipate every single situation, because it will create an unwieldy set of rules.”

“A good rule of thumb may be to model some of your bylaws on what the local municipality does. For example, issues relating to noise, garbage and parking issues often are legislated by the city government. There’s no reason to reinvent the wheel when guidelines for neighboring citizens are already in place. If the complaints can be handled within the guidelines of the municipality, then it takes some of the burden off the board and doesn’t put them in the position of trying to police their neighbors.”

“Overall, the industry has been moving away from the command-and-control environment for housing communities. If a board is going to err, they should err on the side of flexibility. No one wants to live next door to someone with a front yard full of plastic garden trolls, but people should be allowed a little freedom. Associations are trying to move toward an environment where neighbors work out disputes with neighbors. You want to have bylaws that will allow people to work things out.”

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