Establishing resident policies often feels like a walking a tightrope. On one hand, property managers want to set boundaries that keep the community neat and orderly, safe for all residents and attractive to future residents. On the other hand, research shows that today’s residents want more autonomy when it comes to decorating and creating personal spaces that fit their lifestyle and decorating preferences.

For optimal results and resident satisfaction, set rules about balcony, patio and outdoor spaces to maintain an inviting and welcoming atmosphere and pleasant curb appeal without making residents feel like policies stifle their personal decorating style or trample on tenant rights.

#1.  Address Safety First

For safety reasons, hallways, stairways, and egress and access areas must remain unobstructed. As a property manager, establishing an outdoor storage and decorating policy that discourages storing bicycles, personal items, excessive plants or other decorations helps make sure that all residents have access to common traffic areas.

It may be beneficial to consult insurance agents and risk management specialists who specialize in multifamily housing properties to establish a reasonable policy that limits exposure while allowing residents leeway to add personal decorative touches to their outdoor spaces.

#2. Create Opportunities for Compromise

When consultants recommend a strict policy that does not allow any personal items to be displayed outside living quarters, adding permanent hangers for plants and door decoration allows residents to add personal touches without compromising safety for other tenants.

Adding on-site bicycle storage, centrally located community recycling bins and outdoor grilles gives residents alternatives to storing personal equipment in hallways or on balconies.

#3 Expand Common Area Amenities

Many properties discourage smoking, without establishing a property-wide non-smoking policy. As part of a commitment to limit smoking, property managers ask residents not to keep ashtrays or butt containers outside their home units.

Some apartment communities have removed ashtrays from office entrances and community rooms or other gathering spaces. While these actions send a clear message that smoking is discouraged, some residents and prospective tenants may simply discard their butts on the ground. This poses fire hazards and requires additional maintenance hours to properly maintain the property.

Before removing outdoor containers, property managers should review their tenant profiles. There has been debate in recent years about the legality of establishing a property-wide no-smoking policy. When a property chooses to allow tobacco use, providing trash receptacles around the property and/or allowing residents to place approved containers outside their door may actually reduce hazards, keep the property cleaner and provide another layer of uniformity throughout the community.

#4 Consider Fair Housing Requirements

While it is normally acceptable to develop a property policy regarding personal items stored outside individual apartments, property managers need to carefully consider special needs residents. Limiting easy access to equipment designed to improve mobility – such as scooters, walkers, wheelchairs and other assistive devices – could lead to legal challenges.

Surveying current tenants before establishing a new property-wide outdoor decorating and storage policy is one way property managers can make sure they cover the following areas.

  • Does current policy encourage safe practices?
  • Are all tenants respectfully considered?
  • Will policy changes limit emergency access?
  • Are alternative storage options available?
  • How will policy changes impact the property financially?

Communicate Policy Changes

Prior to enforcing a new decorating and outdoor storage policy, managers should inform residents of upcoming changes by sending a broadcast email, using text messaging or posting a notice on the tenant portal included with property management software.

By giving residents advance notice and being willing to compromise, managers can build lasting relationships with tenants that encourage stronger compliance rates.