Creating and Enforcing HOA Pet Policies That Work

With several Arizona cities ranking high in WalletHub’s 2016 listing of most pet-friendly cities, it’s likely that your community allows residents to have pets. Still, your homeowners association (HOA) needs to have a clear policy to prevent residents’ furry family members from becoming a community problem. After all, it isn’t really Rover’s fault if issues arise. It’s up to his owners to clean up after him, to ensure that he remains well behaved and to follow the HOA rules.

A good pet policy should help to prevent issues from arising and enable your board to address those that do. Plus it should serve to remind pet owners that, as much as they may love their pets, it’s also important to respect fellow residents. Here we provide four guidelines for effectively creating and implementing a pet policy. Remember that a policy will only work if residents know about it. Be sure to use all your regular communication channels to inform them of the new policy – and the penalties for violating it.  

1. Establish pet policies that make sense.
Unless your community wants to ban pets outright, your community’s pet policy should be purposeful but not unreasonably restrictive. For example, requiring pet owners to properly clean up and dispose of pet waste would be a reasonable provision. (Most cities and towns have so-called “pooper-scooper” ordinances.) It would also be appropriate to fine residents who don’t comply with the policy. If your community does not currently have a pet policy in place, or if your board members think it might be time to update it, survey your residents to find out what is important to them. You may want to invite residents with and without pets to form a pet policy committee. Committee volunteers could be responsible for creating and distributing the survey and advising the board. An experienced community management company can also help you establish or modify a new pet policy according to your bylaws, as well as enforce policy compliance.

2.  Specify pet limitations. 
Protecting the safety, health and enjoyment of HOA residents is the main reason for having a pet policy. Make sure that it includes limitations, such as the number of pets allowed per household, breeds and maximum size. You will probably want to prohibit dog breeds that are known to be aggressive or difficult to manage, especially if local ordinances already prohibit them.   Should your HOA allow birds or other small animals? Should it allow exotic animals like boa constrictors or pot-bellied pigs? Be specific about the types of pets your association will allow so there are no misunderstandings.  

3.  Enforce your pet policy fairly. 
As with all HOA policies, your board should be consistent and fair when it comes to enforcing your community’s pet policy. For the most part, pet owners want to be good neighbors and will do their best to keep their pets under control. But what if a resident’s pet becomes a problem? If your HOA is professionally managed, ask your community manager or another staff member to speak with the pet owner. Ideally, this should be a friendly, face-to-face conversation. Sometimes, pet owners simply need to be made aware of their pet’s behavior or reminded of the policy. However, you may need to issue a written violation notice if a resident ignores this friendly reminder or is a repeat offender. The notice should be accompanied by a copy of the policy, as well as the penalties for violating it. Still having issues with a particular pet owner? In that case, speak with your community manager and with your HOA’s attorney to determine whether legal action would be appropriate.

4.  Know when to bend the rules. 
Of course pet policies should apply to everyone equally, but there may be times when exceptions are necessary. For example, if the HOA decides to become a no-pet community, you may want to “grandfather” in those residents who already have pets. Be sure that such exceptions are explained clearly to avoid any backlash.  

The Federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act – as well as comparable state laws – also provide protections to people who need service animals. Not only must your HOA allow the animal to live with a disabled resident, but you also cannot require any payment or security deposit for it. These laws also cover people with mental or emotional disabilities who are prescribed a “support” pet. However, they do not preclude your HOA from establishing rules about service or support pets, such as requiring owners to clean up after them or keep them on a leash. Check with your attorney to make sure your rules are in accordance with the law.

Pet owners can be sensitive about their animals, but residents who don’t have pets may come to really enjoy those in their community if their owners follow the rules. As a board member, you can help to minimize conflicts by being transparent about your pet policies, communicating them clearly and applying them consistently. Chances are if residents understand that these policies are intended to keep your community safe, attractive and pleasant for everyone, they will want to do their best to abide by them.  

For more information on setting and enforcing pet policies, contact FirstService Residential, Arizona’s leading community management company.

Do the residents in your community know who to call when pet owners don’t follow the rules? Sign up to download our easy-to-follow guide. It will help you to better understand who handles what in your community.