Setting Pet Policies in Your Community
We tend to think of a community as made up of the people within it, but there’s another important relationship that can affect the health of the community as a whole – pets! Furry friends can liven up a neighborhood and improve the mental health of residents. On the flip side, they can also lead to disagreements, lawn messes, property damage, and (in rare cases) injury.
Figuring out how to best blend pets and owners is a tricky balancing act that many association boards face. In the last several years, national, state and local governments have enacted laws and regulations around service and emotional support animals, creating yet another layer of complexity when it comes to setting pet policies in your community.
This article will help you discern how to best approach pet policies to ensure that they are compliant with the law and will create a respectful, safe and happy community.
Know the law
Before creating or revising your community’s pet policies, make sure to familiarize yourself with national, state and local laws and regulations around service and emotional support animals – and discuss with your association attorney. You want to ensure that your community’s rules are aligned with these and that you know exactly what you can and cannot do.
Draft reasonable pet policies
Approximately 85 million families are pet owners, according to the American Humane Society. With this statistic in mind, you can be almost certain you’ve got furry friends living in your neighborhood. Having firm regulations in place will ensure pets and their owners remain good neighbors and not a nuisance.
How do your residents feel about pets in the community? The board can create and distribute a survey to learn about the type of community the residents envision. Some associations may form a pet committee composed of both pet owners and non-pet owners so that regulations can be drafted, reviewed, communicated, and enforced in a way that satisfies all.
Any regulations should be easily accessible, serve a defined purpose (such as protecting the health, comfort and general safety of residents), and be reasonable.
An example of a rule that every community could put in place would be to state that an animal’s owner must clean any waste deposited in common areas, and refusal to do so would result in a fine. The community association board can also place restrictions or limitations on the types of animals that are allowed in the community, if only to curtail the presence of any pet alligators.
Communication and compliance
Once you have drafted or updated your community’s pet regulations, the next step is communicating the regulations and ensuring residents comply with them.
It’s important to communicate the rules to all residents, either as reinforcement or to bring them up to speed so that all community members are compliant with the policies.The regulations should be communicated clearly and frequently to all residents, using as many communication channels available, including email, newsletters and flyers posted in the community.
Consistency and fairness in enforcing the rules will go a long way toward making sure all residents comply with them. When it comes to how complaint procedures are handled, you may consult with your association attorney or your local animal control officials to ensure your process is similar to theirs.
Consider pet restrictions
Your residents’ health and safety are of the utmost importance, so the homeowner association documents will usually stipulate the type, size and weight of animals permitted within the community. Though this restriction can be tough to enforce, it will require each animal to be closely monitored. Consider adding incoming pet data to the application process for anyone looking to move into the community. Also, make sure new pet additions have a filtration process to ensure people are remaining within the regulations.
Your community could also consider a limit on the number of animals allowed within each home to help ensure that living conditions for the community remain harmonious. Breeds are also commonly taken into account, and animals widely considered to be dangerous could be outlawed in the community (Though it should be pointed out that many breeds commonly considered dangerous can be quite sweet and aren’t statistically more dangerous than other breeds.). Behavioral matters such as, biting, fighting or aggressiveness could be grounds for refusing an animal’s inclusion.
Any rules and regulations regarding animals should be written and consistently enforced for the wellbeing of the community, but there are some exceptions association boards must consider, particularly when first instituting new rules about pets. Let’s say your community’s board has decided to become a no-pet community, but you have residents who already have existing pets. There is the option to “grandfather” them in so that the animal can remain with its family and no one is forced from their homes. With this option, 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. The Federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act protects those who have and need service animals, provided the disability can be proven and the animal’s function is clearly defined. The homeowner association board should work closely with the association’s attorney to ensure reasonable accommodations of approved service animals.
Service animals should not be confused with emotional support animals. Service animals are for humans with documented disabilities, and must have specific training to help with physical tasks. On the other hand, any pet can be an emotional support animal, and they have fewer legal protections. For instance, restaurants must admit service animals, but not necessarily emotional support animals.
With this distinction in mind, the board must also follow local laws. For example, new Florida regulations around emotional support animals protect individuals who rely on them, while also strengthening regulations around documentation. An emotional support animal is defined as an animal that doesn’t require training to work, perform tasks, provide assistance, or provide therapeutic emotional support. The new law also addresses telehealth providers and services, ensuring that the provider has personal knowledge of an individual’s need for an emotional support animal. Disciplinary actions for healthcare practitioners providing fraudulent ESA documentation can include a second degree misdemeanor, fines and community service. Knowing these laws will help prevent against fraud, while also making sure the community remains on the right side of the law.
There is a lot to consider when it comes to pet policies within a community. It is a complex matter and may be a sensitive issue to fellow community members. In these cases, the association board must be firm and clear in its communication, well-educated on the various legal ordinances stated above, and transparent when creating, updating and enforcing the community’s governing pet policies. It should always be emphasized to the community that pet regulations are in the best interest of the safety and wellbeing of all residents.