How to Set Pet Policies for your Community

Posted on Friday October 09, 2015

Your condominium corporation's bylaws will dictate whether or not pets are allowed in your community. They may also impose limits on the type and number allowed. In a pet-friendly community it’s important that the Board keep order within the community by establishing rules and boundaries. Most of the problems that arise in pet-friendly communities have much more to do with the owners and very little to do with the pets. Pets can’t clean up after themselves and most of the behaviours that annoy other residents stem from lack of training.  Your dog could be your neighbour’s best friend too, as long as you ensure your pet is on its best behavior.
Here are some ways your condominium or HOA Board and property management company can make sure all residents are aware and respectful of the community pet policy and help resolve any pet-related issues.

Pet policies need to be reasonable:

A 2014 Ipsos-Forward survey for the Canadian Animal Health Institute revealed 34% of Canadian households have at least 1 dog and 32% have at least 1 cat. The estimated total resulting from the study is 13.4 million pets. Armed with this fact, unless your bylaws prohibit pets, it’s a sure bet there are furry friends living in your community. For this reason it’s important to have rules to prevent pets from becoming a nuisance and ensure pets and their owners remain good neighbors. For example, a common policy states that an animal’s caregiver must pick up, and dispose of properly, any waste deposited on common property; failure to do so would result in a fine.
When creating their policy, the Board should also consider what types of pets will be restrictions in the community. Do you really want a python or a pot-bellied pig as a domestic pet in your multi-family neighbourhood?
All policies should be easy for residents to access, communicated frequently and clearly in writing, be reasonable, be enforced in a fair and friendly way, comply with local regulations and by-laws and have a defined purpose, such as protecting the comfort, health and over-all safety of residents.

Encourage resident compliance with policies:

Once your community’s pet rules are in place, it is important to get residents to comply. You may have included a regulation that says dogs must be leashed and controlled when on common property, but some pet owners still let their dogs run free. The pet policy must be communicated again to those who do not comply and sanctions imposed if they do not.
The Board should talk with the community and ask their opinion on the regulations. Another suggestion is to distribute a survey to see what the owners think about the policy that is in place and how it is enforced. Perhaps a pet committee could be formed made up of both pet owners and pet free owners to review and discuss the policy and its enforcement with the goal of finding a solution that satisfies everyone. When determining the best way to handle complaints, the local animal bylaw officials or the corporation’s legal advisor are also valuable resources.

Pet rule enforcement:

The vast majority of condominium residents will abide by the policies in place and ensure their pets are not allowed to become nuisances. Unfortunately, there are always those who believe regulations do not apply to them and their pet. When a pet owner violates the rules, the infraction should be communicated in a friendly manner. Perhaps it’s an honest mistake and the resident is unaware of the pet policy; include a copy of the regulations. If the pet owner still does not comply, a written notice to advise them of the consequences of repeated bylaw offences, which may include fines is a logical next step.
If the pet owner still refuses to abide by the rules it may be time to take drastic action. Most condominium bylaws include a means to evict an animal for non-compliance. This is an unfortunate final step, and one that most Boards do not take lightly. If you are unsure if your bylaws support this, consult your legal advisor.

Restrictions to consider:

The health and safety of the residents of the community is the number one priority when it comes to pets. The bylaws of the condominium will usually state what type and size of pets are allowed. They often restrict animals based on their size and weight. Many Boards require an owner to submit a pet application that includes this information plus proof of licensing and perhaps even a picture. Some communities limit the number of animals allowed in each residence, they may allow only cats, or even no pets at all. Certain breeds of dogs may be prohibited. Problem behaviours such as biting, fighting, jumping or other forms of aggression will be considered when evaluating if it is appropriate to allow an animal in the community. The restrictions a multi-family neighborhood chooses are important to protect all members and promote harmony within the community.

There will be exceptions:

Pet rules and regulations are written and enforced to preserve the benefit of the community as a whole, but there will be exceptions Boards must consider. Perhaps your community has passed new bylaws that prohibit pets. This requires the approval of 75% of the owners, but it has been done. What about residents who already have pets living with them? In a case such as this the Board will often “grandfather” the existing pet for the remainder of its life so that the household can keep their precious family member. Once the pet is gone, though, it usually cannot be replaced. When pets are grandfathered, the revised bylaw must clearly communicated to any new residents to prevent misunderstandings and further exceptions to the rule.
Another exception, enforced by law, is the use of service dogs by persons with disabilities. The Service Dogs Act provides Albertans with disabilities, who use qualified service dogs, the right of access to public places. This includes places of lodging. The disability must be proven and the dog’s role clearly defined.

The condominium Board should work closely with their legal team to ensure reasonable accommodations of approved service animals. There may also cases of fraudulent service animal or emotional support animal claims from which they will need to protect the community.  
It is clear there is a lot to consider when developing pet policies for a multi-family community. It is a complicated, and often emotional, matter; one where there can be strong feelings on all sides. The condominium Board must be firm and deliver clear communications. They must be well-educated about the legal requirements, and transparent when creating, updating and enforcing the condominium’s governing pet policies.
Pet regulations are in the best interest of the safety and well-being of all residents; this should always be emphasized to the community. To learn more about how to handle pet rules and regulations, contact FirstService Residential, Alberta’s leading residential property management company.

It can be difficult to know who to call when a problem arises in the community. When should you call the manager? Do your residents know who to call when problems or issues arise in the community?

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