Recently, CNN did a special report on pets. Currently, in the United States, there are 360 million pets, according to the pet industry. This means that pets actually outnumber people in the United States by about 60 million. Because pets are such an integral part of most people’s lives, pet issues are some of the most common issues with which condominiums and homeowners associations have to deal. How many pets you are allowed to have? What types of pet are permitted? Where pets are allowed to roam? These are just some of the examples of pet issues facing associations.
Before the board can even consider adopting a pet policy, the first source that associations must look at to determine how much authority the board has to impose restrictions is the governing documents (i.e. the declaration and bylaws). After careful review of the governing documents, the board can then evaluate whether the pet restrictions in the documents, if any, are clear or need further clarification, and whether it should adopt other rules to protect the association.
Before drafting a pet policy, the board should understand that pet rules are about people with pets, and not just pets. For example, a rule stating that pets are not allowed to “do their business” on the common area is probably not as effective as a rule stating that owners must clean up after their pets. Focusing on regulating the behavior of the owner will make enforcement of the rule easier for the association.
Associations need rules that are clear, well-defined, and above all, reasonable. If a rule is unreasonable, courts will not enforce it. There are four things associations should consider after drafting a pet rule.
- Does it serve a purpose?
Board members should ask whether the rule was adopted in good faith to benefit the community as a whole, or whether the rule was adopted to address a particular owner with who a member of the board has a problem and is furthering a vendetta. The board may want to consider adding language such as “providing for the health, comfort, safety, and well-being of the residents,” to underscore that the rule was adopted for a legitimate purpose.
- Is it reasonable?
Board members should ask whether the rule is logical, whether it addresses a specific problem with a specific solution that is rational and fair, and whether it is too broad or too restrictive.
- Is the rule consistent with the declaration, bylaws, local and state statutes, and federal regulations?
As was mentioned above, before a pet rule is adopted, the board should determine whether the rule would violate the declaration, bylaws, or other local, state, or federal laws. The association’s attorney should be consulted in making this determination.
- Is the rule consistent with public policy?
Board members should ask whether there is anything in the rule that is discriminatory or that would be contrary to public policy.
Affirmative answers to the four questions above will make it more likely that a court would uphold a pet restriction if it were to be challenged.
Pets are a part of life in a community association. If the association recognizes this and adopts reasonable pet policies, then the likelihood increases that both people and their pets will be able to live together in harmony.
Gregory B. Coxey
Attorney at Law