View our full infographic on setting pet policies.
Your community’s governing documents will dictate whether or not pets are allowed in your community, and will also specify limits on the type and number allowed. If you live in a pet-friendly community, it’s important that you establish rules and boundaries to keep order within your community. Many of the issues and problems that arise in pet-friendly communities have very little to do with the pets – after all, they cannot clean up after themselves – and much more to do with their owners. Your neighbor’s dog could be your best friend too, as long as your neighbor makes sure his pet is on its best behavior.
Here are some ways your homeowner association (HOA) board and property management company can help resolve any pet-related issues to ensure all residents are cognizant and respectful of the community.
Draft reasonable pet ordinances
Approximately 62 percent of U.S. citizens are pet owners, according to the American Humane Society. With this statistic, you can almost bet you’ve got furry friends living in your neighborhood. So it’s important to have rules that will ensure pets and their owners remain good neighbors and don’t become a nuisance. For example, a rule that every community could put in place would state that an animal’s owner must clean any waste deposited in common areas, and refusal to do so would result in a fine.
What if someone wants to get a python or a pot-bellied pig as a domestic pet? The HOA board should also place restrictions or limitations on the types of animals that are allowed in the community.
Any regulations should be easily accessible, communicated clearly and frequently in writing to all residents, be in compliance with community by-laws/local regulations, serve a defined purpose (such as protecting the health, comfort and general safety of residents), be reasonable, and be enforced in a friendly and fair way.
Encourage compliance with rules
Once you have drafted or updated your community’s pet regulations, the next step is getting residents to comply. Your community might have a regulation in place that states dogs must be on leashes, but there may be a resident or two who always lets their dog run free. 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.
HOA board members should talk with residents to get their opinions. Create and distribute a survey to see how the community feels about the pet policies and their enforcement. Maybe even form a pet committee comprised of pet owners and non-pet owners so that regulations can be reviewed, discussed, and enforced in a way that satisfies all. When it comes to how complaint procedures are handled, you may consult with the association attorney or your local animal control officials to ensure your process is similar to theirs.
Enforce pet rules
Most animal owners are considerate of the association rules and prevent their pets from being nuisances. However, there are always exceptions. So what do you do if a community member is in violation? First, management should approach the individual(s) and address them verbally using friendly communication. It’s possible the resident is unaware of the rules, or 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 as reflected in the by-laws would be an appropriate next step.
If the board is still struggling to achieve compliance with any particular resident(s), a fine may need to be imposed on the person for continual violations. But first, confirm with your association attorney or property management company to see if a fine can be charged, and if so, what an appropriate amount would be.
If none of the above attempts rectify the issue, it might be time to consider mediation before taking further action. Trained third-party consultants can usually be suggested or recommended by your managing agent or, even found through your local humane society. If all else fails and the situation becomes extreme, the matter may need to be escalated to a legal issue.
Your residents’ health and safety are of the upmost importance, so the homeowner association documents will usually stipulate the kind and size of animals allowed. 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. 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 considered to be dangerous could be outlawed in the community. Even behavioral matters such as jumping, biting, fighting or aggressiveness could be grounds for refusing an animal’s inclusion.
Rules and regulations regarding animals should be written and enforced for the well being of the community, but there are some exceptions association boards must consider. Perhaps 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. 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 and to learn how to protect themselves against fraudulent service animal or emotional support animal claims.
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 their communications, 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 well being of all residents. For more information on how to handle pet rules and regulations, contact FirstService Residential, New York’s leading residential property management company.