But when all is said and done, the one thing that takes most of the community manager's time is handling guideline violations. How do you, as an extremely busy person, do this with only a minimum amount of time invested? How do you handle residents as a fragile yet necessary part of your business and still get everything else done without making them feel that they are an imposition to you? How do you notify and discuss a guidelines violation with a resident without starting World War III? And, most importantly, how do you facilitate correction of outstanding violations in a timely manner.
Steps Toward Resolution
As with anything, there are no easy answers to these questions. Resolving problems must start before there is a problem. That means starting with the administrative side of your community. For a first step, look at the document you use for your community guidelines. Is it clearly written? Are the guidelines reasonable? Are they enforceable?
The second step is the orientation process. It is imperative that as a community manager, you take time to discuss certain items with residents after they have been approved. The lease, the terms of the rental agreement, and the specific requirements and provisions contained in the guidelines are high on the list of items to discuss. Is this a time-consuming process? Most definitely. And is there an alternative? None that are really acceptable. New residents will probably sign a statement that says they received the guidelines, have read them and agree to abide by them, even if they haven'tread them.
This is the start of a major problem for you as a community manager. They will most likely not go home and read the guidelines and, therefore, won't call you with any questions, because they can't possibly have any. This is the beginning of a major problem for you as a community manager. Your first realization that there is a problem should be when you see them in violation of one or more of the guidelines. When they receive a notice, a phone call, or a visit from you, one of their first comments is almost sure to be, "No one told me I couldn'tdo that," followed by an incredulous look of disbelief.
As a community manager, you are now in the position of not only enforcing your guidelines, but defending and explaining them as well. This is not an enviable position,
because rarely do such interactions end quickly or peacefully. Residents feel insulted, defensive and that they must somehow come out on top in a contest of wills. A community manager that comes on too strongly, that threatens eviction over the littlest thing, or that appears to be unreasonable will not gain cooperation from this resident, now or ever.
The Nightmare Begins
Now you've begun a nightmare of a resident relations problem, and it's sure to affect resident retention. The simple act of discussing guidelines during the orientation process can usually eliminate most of this grief. Hand-in-hand with the discussion, the resident needs to acknowledge his responsibilities and agree to abide by the terms explained in the guidelines.
The acknowledgement was for years obtained in the form of a separate statement that the new resident signed.
This statement went something like: "The undersigned agrees that he has read and understands all requirements as presented in the guidelines, and agrees to adhere to the terms contained therein during the time he is a resident of this community."
A copy of the guidelines was then given to the resident for future reference. In reality, community managers usually cut corners in the presentation and discussion of the lease and the guidelines. The resident usually makes it eminently clear that he is trying to move, is in a hurry, and doesn'thave time for a lot of paperwork. What a shame for everyone. This is a resident who is headed for misunderstandings and a community manager who is headed for problems.
When discussing guidelines with a new resident, take time to talk about each and every term and provision. Then, request that the resident, and all adult members of the family, either initial or sign each page of the guidelines.
Laid Out in Black & White
When a resident violates one of the guidelines and you have those initialed pages, you have the ability to turn a potentially contentious situation into a routine notification process. It happens because you now are able to simply send a basic form letter that saying "It appears that you may have decided to alter your lifestyle in such a way that it no longer is aligned with the guidelines for this community. At the time you joined us as a resident, we discussed the guidelines that set acceptable parameters of behavior and responsibility for resident and management alike who live in (community name). Please call the office so that we may discuss your decision to change your lifestyle with you." Then, staple a copy of the initialed page with the violated guideline(s) currently being violated.
What happens is the realization on the part of the resident that he is caught dead to rights. There is no wiggle room here. There is no need for him to try to defend his actions or to tell you that he didn'tknow he was violating a guideline. And, there is no need for him to feel like he is backed into a corner and has to become aggressive or belligerent. Your notice simply acknowledges that he has made a choice, and asks for him to take time to discuss it with you.
Remember, the best resident relations program can be compared to a round room: If you don't back a resident into a corner where he has to defend himself you can truly have a productive conversation, mutual respect, and a meeting of the minds. If you force him to lose face; if you turn this type of situation into a confrontation where the battle lines are drawn; or if you place a large amount of importance on the "winning" of every disagreement, you've lost the resident relations game before you even started.
Resolve those guideline violations that frequently happen by using peer pressure, rewards, public recognition, and, once in a while, fear. By using all
these techniques and more, you can truly enforce your guidelines and build your resident relations program to new heights.
Yours will be the community run by a manager with a reputation for being fair, honest, and consistent. The time and emotional energy you spend on guideline violations will be greatly reduced, and the time you do spend in the future will be much more pleasant.
Where The Problems Lie
Which of your community guide-lines are violated the most often? What problems do you need to eliminate in order to better meet the goals of your community owner or to have a more professionally operated community?
Among these are reducing receivables; out-of-compliance clotheslines; the building of decks that are required as part of the initial installation but are still not done 60 days later; installation of skirting that is supposed to be done by a third party and remains undone; residents who ride bicycles on the community streets without paying attention to motorists; and residents who "forget" the streets have a speed limit and are not part of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.