Are you a pet owner? Thinking of buying a property that belongs to a homeowners or condo association? Then you’ll want to read this article.
In it, we discuss some of the most common HOA and condo association pet rules and how they can affect you.
Some of them are sensible and practical, while others could use an update. Either way, you need to educate yourself about an association’s pet restrictions before you purchase property within a community.
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What are condo and HOA pet rules?
Community rules, bylaws, and covenants exist to ensure the longevity of the association and to promote safe and enjoyable living for all of its residents. Condo and HOA boards strive to ensure that all the common elements within the association are accessible to the development’s residents.
So, why does it matter what you do within the confines of your own individual unit? After all, you own that share of the property, right? Well, your actions have an impact on the noise, smells, health, and safety of others. That’s why HOAs and condo associations implement pet regulations based on:
- The number of allowed pets
- The weight of pets
- The breed of pets
- Exclusion of exotic and farm animals
The most important thing is for the restrictions to not encroach upon public policy. For instance, HOAs in California are required by law, to allow at least one pet per unit owner according to California Code, Civil Code §4715. However, this doesn’t stop associations from enforcing rules based on criteria such as size, breed, and number.
Problems tend to arises when associations try to enforce a ban based on preferences instead of objective reasoning.
While associations are allowed to limit pet ownership, this can only be done through a written rule or regulation. This rule must have been voted in or have been part of the initial declaration.
Federal law always takes precedence in situations where rules conflict with regulations. But, associations are still allowed to decline “reasonable accommodation” requests if the animal poses a threat to the general safety of the community.
Common condo and HOA pet rules
- The number of pets and weight restrictions
One of the most common pet restrictions enforced by home associations is the number and size of pets. Usually, this the limit is 2 domestic animals, and large dogs may not be allowed on the property.
Placing a limit of the number of cats, dogs and birds allowed in a home at one time is reasonable. This helps limit the noise, waste, odors, and damage typically created by animals. Most of us wouldn’t want to live in a neighborhood where there are more dogs than people.
However, weight limits may be considered outdated. Just because a dog weighs 10 kilograms doesn’t automatically mean they will be better behaved than a dog that weighs 40 kilograms.
Communities are advised to think about creating policies that target poor behavior as opposed to size.
- The type of breed
Your association may restrict pet ownership based on the breed as well. This means there’s a specific clause in the association’s documents detailing the type dog breed that’s allowed. The basis for this rule is usually to appease unit owners. For instance, a unit owner with kids may not be comfortable living in an association with pit bulls because they’re considered an aggressive dog breed.
Needless to say, most dog owners consider this to be an unreasonable restriction and some might take offense to this sort of pet discrimination. After all, just like size, a pet’s breed don’t always translate to certain behavior.
Well-behaved dogs come in all breeds and sizes and the same can be said for ill-mannered pups. We’ve all met our fair share of tiny “toy” dogs that are messy and make plenty of noise. Of course, large breed dogs can also be a handful. It depends on the owner’s ability to train and clean up after their pet.
The association’s decision to ban certain breeds depends on public perception, and legislation, which means it’s enforceable by law. Some states/counties have banned specific dog breeds, which means owners cannot keep them on condo/HOA property, even if other members are comfortable with the dogs.
- Service and emotional support animals
The issue of pets and people with disabilities is governed by the federal Fair Housing Act. This law states that HOAs have to make reasonable accommodations for two classes of animals:
-Service animals. These animals are not considered pets. They are trained to perform certain tasks so that their owners can live more independently.
-Emotional support animals. While rules about emotional support animals are less clear, they do provide therapeutic support to owners.
When an owner makes a reasonable request to keep a service animal, associations are encouraged to accommodate the request as long as it does not negatively impact the community as a whole or endanger individual members. The rights of an individual to have a pet under the Fair Housing Act can override any pet prohibition in the declaration.
Claims for emotional support animals should be reviewed carefully and approved on a case by base basis. It’s important to remember that pet restrictions are meant to maintain peace and order in the community.
To ensure fair compliance, most condos and HOAs require the following from an owner to corroborate emotional support animal claims:
-A statement from a licensed mental health professional. This statement must show that the patient has a mental or emotional disability and the animal will lessen the effects of the disability.
- Application of pet restrictions
One of the chief responsibilities of the condo/HOA is to enforce community rules and regulations. This goes for pet restrictions too, and the board has the right to impose a fine or at least issue a warning letter to owners who fail to comply with these restrictions. To be considered legal, the measures taken by the association to enforce pet restrictions must be in line with the community’s documents.
The board can even file a lawsuit against an owner that fails to observe community rules. The order would force the owner to remove their pet from the premises. Failure to do so within the permitted time period would mean that the member is in contempt of court and a sheriff would have to enforce the order.
It’s also important for the association to be consistent when it comes to enforcing pet restrictions. Giving certain members a “pass” because they know someone on the board can be seen as favoritism which is unfair and will create conflict within the community.
Fickle or erratic enforcement of the rules implies that the purpose behind the rule is insignificant and this opens an opportunity for owners to successfully challenge it.
While consistency is important when it comes to enforcing community rules, there are exceptions. For instance, members become exempt from rules that are enforced to curb conduct they were already engaged in. This is called grandfathering.
It means that if an owner already owns a pet of a certain breed and size that becomes prohibited, later on, the board won’t be able to enforce the amendment upon them. The reasoning behind this is that the activity was perfectly lawful when the member initially engaged in it.
Boards are advised to include a grandfather clause when implementing new pet rules and restrictions. Included in this clause should be an express exemption for members who already had non-compliant pets prior to the amendment. This will help to prevent waiver claims that cite the non-compliance of grandfathered residents.
The clause should also include an expiration date for the exemption, such as when the unit owner no longer owns the animal or when the property is transferred to another owner. This allows the board to phase out the grandfather clause until the amendment is enforceable to all members.
Helpful guidelines for owners
While most condos/HOAs are proudly pet-friendly, others are not so welcoming to four-legged family members. Here are some helpful tips to follow to avoid possible rule violations and disputes.
- Read the rules
Before you purchase a unit in a condo association or HOA managed property, ask for the governing documents. Read them to find out what the regulations are when it comes to pet ownership. For instance, the association may ask for a doctor’s certification or proof of training to ensure that your pet won’t pose a risk to other residents. Or, you may find that there are certain limitations based on size, weight or breed that affect your ability to keep your pet.
Get familiar with the rules to help you figure out whether the association is a good fit for you.
- Clean up after your pet
If your association does allow you to keep pets, be sure to practice proper decorum. This means cleaning up after your pet whenever you take them for walks on the common areas and properly disposing of any waste that your dog produces along the way.
- Keep it quiet
Although your neighbors may not expect your pets to remain completely silent, constant loud barking will annoy anyone. If you notice your pet becoming noisier than usual, try and figure out what’s causing the problem. Does it happen when you leave them alone for long periods of time? Could they be feeling stressed over a recent change in the environment? Perhaps they’re struggling with some sort of health issue. Or maybe your pet is an incorrigible animal that gets enthusiastic every time they comes across squirrels and other smaller animals.
Whatever the cause, it’s important to identify it so you can take remedial action. If necessary, take your pet to the vet for a check-up to make sure there are no health concerns.
- Avoid wandering
You should always keep an eye on your pets to make sure they don’t wander around the building and frighten other residents. You should also consider getting your dog trained by a professional if you haven’t already. Its also required to have your dog on a leash in most common areas. Otherwise, you might find yourself in hot water with other owners when Fido starts disturbing their peace.
- Protect yourself
Even if your association has flexible pet rules, things can change. To protect yourself from future amendments that might threaten your ability to keep a pet, include a special contingency in your purchase agreement. This contingency should state that in order to move forward with the purchase, you must receive written verification from the board that your particular pet is accepted.
We all know that purchasing a property is a big and exciting event for a lot of people. But, when your agent hands you that thick stack of papers that come with it, you might find yourself rolling your eyes as you go through the boring legal mumbo-jumbo.
Unfortunately, you have a responsibility to study the rules and regulations that govern your association, especially if you have a pet or multiple pets. Just because you love your pet doesn’t mean the homeowners association is going to feel the same way. Most communities do have some sort of pet policy in effect, and you’ll do well to familiarize yourself with it before you sign on the dotted line.