Many pet owners love their animals
more than as much as any human family member. But not everyone enjoys being near animals. The purpose of a pet policy is to balance the wants and needs of pet families with the wants and needs of non-pet residents.
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Pet rules are necessary in order to keep the peace
Condo residents, especially those who only have a modest wall separating them from their neighbors, don’t want to hear non-stop barking when they’re trying to sleep. Similarly, everyone gets upset if pet waste is left in the middle of the sidewalk. It’s these types of situations that make pet rules and policies necessary for condos and HOAs.
Most governing documents have clauses dedicated to pet ownership. Constraints include restrictions on the number of animals that may be kept in a unit at one time and how and where animal waste can be disposed of. Requirements may also include mandatory registration with the association and the city. These restrictions and requirements apply equally to owners and tenants.
Are no-pet associations legal?
Depending on state rules, associations may be able to enforce a blanket prohibition on all pets. But a ban like this is usually:
- not enforced; or
- challenged in court
That’s because, when properly cared for, pets offer more benefits than drawbacks to people. If you already have an animal and are moving into an association that has a clear no pets policy, you could either keep looking for a more pet-friendly community, or ask the board if it would consider making an exception. While pet-free communities are possible, it can be very challenging to enforce a blanket ban.
In California, every resident has a legal right to own at least one pet. Many years ago, the California Supreme Court held that, as long as a restriction didn’t violate public policy, it was not “wholly arbitrary,” and didn’t impose a burden on members that greatly outweighed any projected benefits, the total ban should be enforced.
However, the California legislature did not like the decision. It enacted Cal. Civ. Code §4715, which gives all HOA members the right to keep at least one pet. Associations can still enforce restrictions on breed, size, number and “other reasonable criteria.”
Pet bans do not apply to service animals
Even if there is a strict “no animal policy” in place, condo and HOA communities cannot ban service animals from the property. Service animals are not considered pets. They are trained working animals that help children and adults to be more independent. Associations are legally required to accommodate service animals, regardless of what the governing documents say. Under the Fair Housing Act, no pet deposit may be charged for service animals.
Most service animals are dogs. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) defines these animals as skilled dogs who are trained to perform specific tasks that mitigate obstacles or barriers for their owners. According to the ADA, disabilities can be physical, sensory, psychiatric, intellectual or other mental disabilities. That means that even if a resident doesn’t have an obvious physical disability, they still may require a service dog to help them live a more independent life. The disabled member must abide by restrictions not affecting the animal’s ability to provide support (like keeping the dog on a leash and cleaning up after the dog), but restrictions on species, breed, and size cannot be applied to a service animal.
If the association decided to update a pet policy, the changes will not apply to the pets that residents already have. It would be unjust to ask a person with two dogs to move out if the rules just changed to one dog per unit. Having a grandfather clause allows boards to enforce new pet restrictions without causing undue stress to current pet owners. Associations can impose the new restrictions on residents if they get new pets, however.
Grandfather clauses are no longer valid if the pet passes or if there is a change in property ownership. The association will have to carefully document who is eligible to be grandfathered in.
Shift from regulating breeds to regulating behavior
In the past, associations were often focused on limiting the size and breed of a dog. They are still common restrictions, but they may unfairly discriminate against animals. For example, pit bulls and rottweilers have a reputation for being dangerous, and residents may feel unsafe around them even if they are well trained. However, some attorneys would advise against banning dogs based on weight or breed (unless the breed is banned by the county). A court may see this type of restriction as unreasonable. After all, good and bad dogs come in all shapes and forms.
There has certainly been a shift when it comes to banning certain types of dogs, and that’s largely seen as a good thing. Associations have recognized that the behavior of the animal matters more than the animal’s breed. As a result, policies are more focused on behavior and consequences for certain actions. Policies should explain what will happen if a pet owner breaks a rule and should include the association’s right to request for the removal of an animal from the property if an issue persists.
Enforcing pet policies
It is the board’s responsibility to ensure owners comply with pet rules and policies. However, owners also have a responsibility to follow the rules and make sure their pet behaves.
If a pet owner does violate a community rule, there is a process the enforcer must follow. The association’s governing documents should contain the steps that one must follow when enforcing rules. Usually, a first-time offender will receive a verbal warning or warning letter. Some residents may simply have forgotten about a pet restriction; a gentle reminder can be enough to fix that issue.
Pet owners who continue to break a rule may be subjected to sanctions or fines. Some condos have gotten really creative and have paid for a service that allows them to test animal excrements if an owner doesn’t clean up after their pet. The fines can be quite significant, and the evidence is hard to dispute.
Other properties use cameras and refer to footage if someone has failed to clean up after a pet or has been accused of violating a policy.
If a resident’s non-compliance with the pet policy is threatening the safety of another community member, the board should pursue legal action. If the association is successful, the pet owner will be legally required to comply with any order made by a judge.
Pet owners see their furry companions as family members, and most people can peacefully co-exist with animals, even if they don’t love dogs. Pet policies help condo and HOA communities balance the wants and needs of both pet owners and non-pet owners. Owners must be aware of the rules, and associations must enforce them in order for the policies to be effective.
Rules should be clear, reasonable and enforceable. It’s also best to create restrictions tailored to pet behavior as opposed to specific breeds. Good dogs come in all shapes and sizes, and an animal’s breed does not predetermine its ability to learn good behavior.