Tips for Establishing Pet Policy in Your Association

Posted on Tuesday September 20, 2016 |



Does your community allow pets? What types? How many? Are there limits on size?  If you live in a pet-friendly community, it’s important that your association board set boundaries to keep order within your community. Many of the issues that become problems in pet-friendly communities have very little to do with the pets–after all, they can’t clean up after themselves. Your neighbor’s dog could be your best friend too, as long as your neighbor makes sure his pet is on its best behavior. 
 
Follow our list of ways you can create and implement pet policy that will help resolve any pet-related issues and ensure all residents are respectful of the community. Keep in mind, when crafting policy about any issue, it’s important to clearly communicate that policy, and the consequences for violating it, to all community residents and association members.
 
Draft common-sense pet ordinances
Approximately 62 percent of U.S. citizens are pet owners according to the American Humane Society and 57 percent of Canadians own pets as reported by the Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development. With these statistics in mind, you can bet you’ve got furry friends living in your pet-friendly community. It’s important to have rules in place that will ensure pets and their owners are on their best behaviors and respectful to others in the community. One common rule in most associations is that every animal’s owner must clean up any waste deposited in common areas, and refusal to do so will result in a fine. 
 
Board members should talk with residents to better understand their stance. Create and distribute a survey to see how the community feels about pet policies and their enforcement. Consider forming a committee comprised of both pet owners and non-pet owners so that policy can be crafted without bias. When it comes to how violations are handled and how policies are enforced, you may consult with a professional property management company to ensure these expectations are reasonable.
 
Consider boundaries
Your residents’ health and safety are of the upmost importance, so the homeowner association governing documents will usually stipulate the number, kind and size of animals allowed per household. What about small caged animals such as hamsters and birds? Or exotic animals such as pot-bellied pigs and pythons? The association board should also consider restrictions or limitations on the types of animals that are allowed in the community.
 
Restrictions are often made according to the size and weight of pets that are permitted within the community. Though this restriction can be tough to enforce, it will require each animal to be closely monitored. The breed of a dog is also commonly taken into account, and animals considered to be dangerous could be prohibited in the community and perhaps by local ordinance. Behavioral matters such as jumping, biting or aggressiveness could be grounds for refusing an animal’s inclusion as well.
 
Enforce compliance with the rules 
Pet policy, like all association rules, should be enforced fairly, swiftly and consistently. Most animal owners are considerate of the association rules and prevent their pets from becoming nuisances. So what do you do if a community member is in violation of your association’s pet policy?  First, your property management staff should approach the pet owner and address them in person, in a friendly manner. It’s possible the resident is unaware of the rules, or that the violation could be an honest mistake. If the resident is a repeat offender, sending a written notice to warn them of the issue and including a copy of the pet regulations and violation consequences, as reflected in the governing documents, would be an appropriate next step. If that doesn’t solve the issue, consult with your association’s attorney on appropriate further action.
  
Make exceptions when needed
Rules and regulations regarding animals should be written and enforced for the well-being of the community, but there are some exceptions association boards should consider. Perhaps your community’s board has decided to become a no-pet community, but you have residents who already have pets. There is an option to “grandfather” them in so that the animal can remain with its family. In that case, the updated regulations must be well-communicated to any new residents in order to avoid misunderstandings and exceptions to the rule. 
 
There is also the matter of service animals for residents who might require additional assistance. Service animals are not pets and must be allowed at no cost to the homeowner or resident. The Federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act protects those who have and require service dogs. The association board should work closely with the association’s attorney to ensure reasonable accommodations are made for approved service animals.
 
Pet polices can be a sensitive issue to community members. In these cases, the association board must be firm and clear in their communications, well-educated on the various legal aspects of the issue and transparent in the creation of an appropriate pet policy. Always emphasize these regulations are in the best interest of the association to ensure of their health, safety and well-being. For more information on setting and enforcing pet policy, contact FirstService Residential, North America’s residential property management leader.

Do your residents know who to call when community members with furry friends aren’t following the rules? Sign up to download our easy-to-follow guide to better understand who handles what in your community and learn more about how partnering with a property management company can improve the lives of everyone in your community.

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