According to the American Pet Products Association as reported by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), "44 percent of all households in the United States have a dog, and 35 percent have a cat."
Because of the desire for pets, animals shelters are emptying and breeders have their work cut out for them. It’s time that homeowners associations also get on board by updating their CC&Rs and operations based on this trend.
While single-family homes, condominiums, apartments, and townhouses are being more welcoming to pets, some residents don’t want their space to go to the dogs. Some people have allergies and phobias to four-legged friends, yet they have to share elevator and hallway space.
That’s why it’s important to create and enforce fair HOA rules regarding pet policy. Here are a few suggestions from IKO Community Management:
- Don’t question medical companions. This is arguably the touchiest part of pet policy because it can question the validity of a resident’s physical or psychological well-being, which is illegal and unfair. Distinguishing between a medically necessary and ordinary pet is difficult because the definition of a "companion animal" is evolving and broad.
A cockatoo or teacup pig seems questionable, so does eight cats in one townhome. However, if you’re concerned about neighbor disputes regarding pets, ask for a prescription for a therapy animal upon a resident’s move-in.
In 2013, the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) rulings said "a prescription for an emotional support animal may come from a ‘physician, psychiatrist, social worker, or other mental health professional.'" Other mental health professionals include licensed mental health counselors, clinical psychologists or social workers, and marriage and family therapists, depending on the state.
According to Maida Genser, founder and president of Citizens for Pets in Condos, Inc., a non-profit based in Tamarac, Florida, "Service animals are covered by disability law under the U.S. Department of Justice.
Emotional support animals are covered under [the Fair Housing Act] and administered through HUD, which applies to condos and co-ops as long as [it has] more than four units. Emotional support animals don't have to be trained to provide assistance, because they provide it...by what they do naturally through...close human-animal bond," which helps with anxiety and depression.
- Clearly lay out the rules. HOA board members must understand that some people move into certain communities because pet aren’t allowed, while others fully enjoy amenities like dog parks and trail systems for their furry companion.
Failure to explain your community’s pet policy or accepting a therapy animal prescription could result in a lawsuit. To avoid this, disclose all CC&Rs to inquiring residents with special attention to the section about pet rules.
Don’t stop there, either. Send reminders in the monthly newsletter or on your HOA’s social media about the following:
- Quantity, height and weight limit, and species of permitted animals
- Location of waste disposal stations
- Pet rules and consequences of nuisance complaints
- Pet-permitting amenities like dog parks
- Pet-friendly events in the community and surrounding areas
- Collar and leash laws
- Pet registration and proof of licensing and vaccinations
- Paperwork for therapy animals
- Pet subcommittee information
- Be compassionate and follow through. The HOA board is put into a tough situation when it comes to pets and rule enforcement. On one hand, each board member must understand and explain that pet rules are in place to protect the health, comfort, and general safety of all residents.
On the other hand, be compassionate about those who have therapy animals and furry family members. Don’t immediately slap an HOA fine or litigate for first-time offenses, like a dog without a leash or a noise complaint from howling.
After multiple instances, talk to the community association attorney to see if an HOA fine can be charged and for how much. After that discussion, impose the fine on the offending resident.
If this doesn’t work, consider mediation. According to FirstService Residential, “Trained third-party consultants can...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.”
If you need more information on how to handle neighbor disputes in regards to pet policy or how to enforce fair rules in your HOA community, download IKO’s guide by clicking below: