Mention changes in pet policies to a group of homeowners, and you’ll get strong emotions and lobbying on both sides. HOA pet policies and changes are trending along two different paths in the past few years. Newer condos that need to appeal to a broader market often allow dogs, cats, and other small household pets. In more established or older condominiums, you frequently find more stringent pet regulations. This is especially true for dogs due to concern of barking, property damage and dog bites.
Pet ownership has increased in recent years, and the Humane Society now reports that 39% of households in the U.S. own a dog and 33% own a cat. Thus, many HOA Boards find themselves revising pet restrictions to keep up with the current trends and demographics.
HOAs can legally ban pets in covenants or bylaws. It’s also possible for the Board to change the rules governing pets, but it needs to be done correctly to be enforceable. For example:
In a recent case, a New York City judge ruled in favor of a homeowner when an HOA tried to give the boot to a dog that was living there before a pet ban was enacted. The judge said that the pet rule was not enforceable because it had not been written into the bylaws and approved by 80% of the members. The HOA spent $100,000 trying to evict the dog.
Another drawback is that some Boards choose not to enforce pet policies for cats because they are less intrusive and create fewer problems. When you have an HOA pet policy, it must extend to all pets and be enforced consistently. Erratic or unbalanced enforcement leads to disgruntled residents and may be ruled against in court. If the intent of a pet policy is for dogs, the Board should specify dogs instead of pets throughout the document.
Changing existing rules in an HOA can be more complicated than merely voting, even when the majority of owners support the changes. When your Board is making changes, consider how others may interpret the changes. Be specific and spell out as much as possible. For example, weight limits are useful when restricting pets to smaller dogs. If you establish a leash regulation, be specific about the areas that apply. Clarify the types of pets and restrictions to which the rule and/or change applies. To avoid leaving the HOA vulnerable to potential lawsuits, consult your HOA attorney for interpretation of the desired changes to ensure that you have covered the legal bases.
Because the number of households having pets is trending upward, pet rules could become key issues for your Board. Taking the time to spell out the details and ensuring the validity of the membership vote will pay big dividends in the future.
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