Pet policies for community associationsThe majority of community associations aren’t just made up of human residents. You can likely find a variety of four-legged residents as well! Furry friends are often a welcome addition, as they can liven up a community and improve the mental health of residents. However, they can also lead to disagreements, messes, property damage and in rare cases, injury.

Figuring out how your human and pet residents can all live together in harmony is a challenge many condominium and community association boards face.  
And the solution is easier than it seems. Have solid community association pet policies in place. However, they need to be sensible and easy to follow. Read on as we breakdown what your community association board needs to consider when creating sensible pet policies.  

Understand the difference between a pet and a service animal 

Service dogAhead of making rules around pets, it’s important to understand the difference between a pet and a service animal. For the purposes of creating rules for your community, pets are defined as companion animals. And they can provide emotional benefits to their owners, such as reducing stress or easing loneliness.  

Service animals are working animals, most often dogs but in some cases miniature horses, that assist people with disabilities. These animals while cute, and often very loved by their owner, are not considered “pets”. The Minnesota Human Rights Act helps ensure that individuals with services animals can live with dignity and are free from discrimination in housing, employment, and public spaces.

Draft reasonable community association pet policies 

According to a recent Forbes article, 66% of U.S. households own a pet and 85% of dog owners and 76% of cat owners consider their pets to be a member of the family. With that in mind, you can be almost certain you’ve got some four-legged neighbors. Having solid rules in place will help pets and their owners remain good community members and not a nuisance.  

Most board members have experienced their fair share of poor pet/owner behavior over the years in their community. While an outright ban on pets can be tempting, a pet-friendly community can be a huge selling point for many potential residents. That’s why clear and concise pet rules can go a long way in keeping pet issues to a minimum.  

When creating the rules, keep in mind that each one should have a purpose that is easy to define. Community members will be more inclined to follow a rule if they understand the reason behind it. To make sure you’re on the right track, discuss the potential rules with your legal counsel. They will be well versed in local and state laws you may need to consider.  

Community association boards typically make rules around the following:  

  • The number of pets permitted within a single dwelling/unit 

  • Weight, size, or breed of animals  

  • Areas where residents can keep or take pets 

  • Requirements for where on the premises pets must be leashed  

When considering these kinds of rules, it’s important to consider rules that can be fairly and reasonably enforced. For example, many associations want to put weight restrictions on animals to keep larger animals out of the community. However, rules specific to an animal’s weight are not easy to enforce. Who is responsible for weighing all the pets to ensure the rule is being followed? What happens when a dog gains a few pounds from being fed from the table too often and ends up over the weight limit?  

As you can imagine, setting weight limits is not the best way to go about keeping large animal breeds from moving in. Should your board decide it wants a rule about the specific types of animals and breeds that are allowed in the community, it’s easier to list what breeds and types of animals are and are not allowed. If you choose to set a rule about specific breeds, you should work closely with your attorney to craft it, making sure you aren’t setting something unrealistic.  

An example of a rule that every community can put in place would be to state that an animal’s owner must clean any waste deposited in common areas, and refusal to do so would result in a fine. To make this rule easier for residents to follow, consider placing dog waste disposal units that include a bag dispenser in the common outdoor areas that pets are allowed to use.  

Not only does a rule like this show that your board is dedicated to keeping association grounds clean, but the addition of a pet amenity goes a long way in showing you consider pets a valuable part of your community.  

To make sure your rules are written in such a way that they aren’t left open to interpretation, have your legal counsel review them.  

Communication and compliance 

Once your community’s pet rules are updated or drafted, communication and ensuring resident compliance is the next step.  
Community association pet policiesThe rules need to be communicated to all residents to keep them top of mind for easy compliance. The communication of the rules should not be a one-time thing. They should be communicated clearly and frequently to all residents through multiple communication channels. These channels can include email, newsletters and flyers that can be found throughout the community.

It should be noted that if your community has units that are rented out by the owner, they can have their own or additional pet rules. For that reason, within your communication it’s important to point out for tenants that the rules set by their landlord may differ than those set by the board. And they are required to follow their landlord’s rules.  
Consistency and fairness in enforcing the rules will go a long way toward making sure all residents comply with them. When it comes to how complaint procedures are handled, you should work with your association’s attorney. 

Exceptions can be made sparingly  

Any rules regarding animals should be consistently enforced for the well-being of the community, but there are some exceptions community association boards must consider, particularly when first instituting new rules about pets.  

Let’s say after too many issues with pets your board has decided to become a no-pet community, however some residents already have existing pets. There is the option to “grandfather” them in so that the animals can remain with their families, and no one is forced from their homes. With this option, the updated rules must be well communicated to any new residents in order to avoid misunderstandings. 

Lean on your legal counsel and community association management team 

Like with the creation of any rules for your community association, there is a lot to consider when it comes to pet policies. However, because this is about resident’s furry family members, it’s often more complex and can be a sensitive issue for community members. That’s why it’s so important to work closely with your legal counsel when drafting the rules. They will help you create sensible rules that can be enforced, setting your community up for success.  

And when it comes to communicating and enforcing the rules, it’s important you lean on the expertise of your community association management team. They have the experience and tools to make communicating and enforcing the rules a breeze. Because reasonable pet policies can go a long way in keeping your human and four-legged residents happy.

Wednesday March 13, 2024