Setting Pet Policies for Your Community: What You Need to Know
We tend to think of a community as made up of the people within it, but there’s another important resident 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 your human and pet residents is a tricky balancing act that many association boards face.
This article will help you discern how to best approach pet policies to ensure the board is working toward a respectful, safe and happy community.
Understand pet definitions
Before we get into specific policies, let’s review some definitions. For purposes of association board policies, pets are defined as companion animals. Companion animals can provide emotional benefits to their owners, such as reducing stress or easing loneliness. But it’s important to note that these pets differ from service animals. Service animals are defined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) as dogs that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for people with disabilities. However, some states may have a broader definition. Examples of work or tasks service animals may perform include guiding people who are blind, alerting people who are deaf or pulling a wheelchair. Service animals are working animals and are not pets, and the association should have a different protocol for handling service animals that complies with all applicable law. We recommend working with association counsel.
It's also important to note that an emotional support animal is defined by the ADA as a dog whose sole function is to provide comfort or emotional support. Emotional support animals do not qualify as service animals.
Community associations must follow federal laws that dictate regulation around service and emotional support animals. This article provides insights and best practices on creating and enforcing policies for pets that do not meet the criteria for those categories.
Know the law
When creating or revising your community’s pet policies, work with your association’s attorney to make sure all applicable laws and regulations, including those related to service and emotional support animals, are taken into consideration. You want to ensure that your community’s rules are aligned with all applicable laws 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 solid 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? Your property management company can help you create and distribute a survey to learn more about how your residents feel about pets in the community. Some associations might consider forming a pets 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), be reasonable and fairly enforceable.
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 and the maximum weight 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 to bring them up to speed or as reinforcement, 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 should work with your association’s attorney and your local animal control officials to ensure your process is on target.
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.
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 jumping, 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 well-being 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 some residents already have existing pets. There is the option to “grandfather” them in so that the animals can remain with their families 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 a lot to consider when it comes to pet policies within a community. It is a complex matter and one that is usually a sensitive issue to fellow community members. In these cases, the association board must be firm and clear in its communication 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 well-being of all residents.
Talk to your professional property management company about how to how to approach pet policies to ensure that they are respectful, safe and compliant with the law.