The Elephant in the Complex – My name is Pat and I am a pet owner; I must confess that my dog Luci has more clothes than most small children, enjoys full run of my home, sleeps in my bed on my pillow and eats from the table. Yes, I am todays’ typical pet owner and you as a condo association need to understand the condo pet policy, this new member of the family, and how to deal with the Elephant in the Complex.
The place to start as a member of the condo association is to look at all of your legal documents including your bylaws. Somewhere in that mound of paper will be a section that goes over “restrictions on use”. Normally the restrictions on use covers items such as noise, sub-rental, use of common areas, etc. In your bylaws, you may even find a section devoted to pets. Remember, in most cases if your bylaws forbid pets, you as an owner’s association or board, cannot over rule the bylaws on your own; this will take a vote of all owners. If your bylaws do allow pets, then you may be able to adopt rules and regulations regarding pets and come up with a plan that works for everyone. Be sure when you are setting up your rules and regulations that you check with your city and county for restrictions that may be actual law such as registering all pets with a city, restricting certain breeds of pets or vaccination requirements. No association can ignore or override local laws.
So, where do you start?
- First you want to define what types of pets are welcome. Many limit pets to dogs (up to a certain weight limit and restrict certain aggressive breeds), cats, small caged animals such as lizards, turtles, gerbils, fish, etc. Be careful not to be too vague when settings criteria, a small dog to some may be 60 lbs. and that opens the residency to a number of large breeds. You also may want to limit how many animals per unit (we’ve all heard of the cat lady with 20 cats, right?). Again, do not be vague when setting your policies, this only opens you up to challenges and possible litigation.
- Next we get into behavior; I lived next to a couple once that had a dog that barked incessantly every time they left the dog alone; since both worked, this was 9 to 12 hours a days of constant yapping that those of us who worked from home had to endure. You’ll want to check not only your noise ordinance in your bylaws, but also your city code for such noise disturbance and regulate accordingly.
- Another common issue is leash laws; most cities require animals to be on a leash any time they are in public; this is inclusive of cats and dogs. To stay within city code, that means that you need a rule that says any time an animal is out in a common area it must be on a leash. We have to remember, not everyone is an animal lover and not all animals are well behaved when not on a leash.
The Clean Up
Clean up is another common problem with pets. In the high rise office building I ran which was offices only, I actually had a tenant bring in their dog and it defecated in the elevator and they failed to clean it up. You can imagine what an issue this could easily become. Not only do you need a rule regarding their responsibility in regards to cleaning up after their pet, but if possible you may want to consider providing free waste disposal bags as an encouragement.
Let’s talk insurance; it is not uncommon for persons to be asked to carry a liability policy that covers to a certain dollar amount if their animal injures someone. Don’t be fooled by the belief that a small dog cannot hurt anyone; certain small breed aggressive dogs can be just as lethal or even more so than a 100 lb. mastiff.
Service dogs are another issue; even if you have a bylaw that states no pets, service dogs are not included in that restriction by law. These dogs are protected under the American with Disabilities Act. In a 2006 court case in Washington DC (United States v Douglass Management Inc.) the company told prospective renters (who were actually testers from the Department of Justice) that no dogs, including guide dogs were allowed. They ended up paying $25000 to compensate would-be tenants who had been discriminated against and another $20000 penalty to the government. You can read about it here. Believe it or not, there is even an ADA law that covers miniature horses. For more information on the details of that you can visit the ADA website.
Condo Pet Policy Conclusion
Regulating the Elephant in the Complex can be a very complex task when you consider cultural shifts in the viewpoint of the general public regarding this new member of the family and laws that must be taken into consideration. Remember, it is always wise to have your legal counsel review any new policy prior to making it public.