You can’t make everybody happy all of the time. But, HOA management sure tries. Their ultimate goal is to satisfy all of the residents in a community while maintaining the value, safety, and aesthetic of the neighborhood. Disagreements are bound to occur whether it be over dues, enforcement of rules, or annoyance among neighbors.
Although tensions may rise during the implementation of a pet policy, it can ultimately prevent disagreements later on.
66 percent of Americans own a pet, meaning many of your residents likely have animals they consider a part of their families. On the other hand, there are bound to be residents who prefer four-legged friends to stay far away – whether due to allergies, past negative experiences with dogs or cats, or simply a dislike for pets.
Finally, no one likes stepping in a pile of dog poop or being kept awake all hours of the night by a neighbor’s barking dog. So what pet policy can your homeowners association management put in place to best meet the needs and desires of your community?
Common Regulations for HOA Pet Policies
Homeowners association management can make decisions for their pet policy based on community feedback, observation, and following models from other HOAs. Ultimately, the right pet policy for your HOA is going to depend on what makes the majority of residents in your community feel comfortable, safe, and satisfied with HOA management.
Common pet policies across HOAs:
- Leash laws – Most HOAs require dogs to be leashed on walks for the safety of other residents, but also for the safety of animals.
- Pet waste disposal – Animal waste is not only smelly and gross but can be hazardous. Most communities require that pet owners properly dispose of pet waste.
- Insurance requirements – An HOA can be found liable for a dog attack on their property without the proper protections in place. Requiring proper insurance from all pet owners can protect HOA management from a hefty bill.
- Fencing requirements – HOAs commonly have fencing requirements in place to maintain the aesthetic and property values. HOA management should have clear guidelines for dog owners looking to secure their pets.
When developing your pet policy, keep in mind any local or federal laws that may affect it. Local, state, and federal law will always trump the covenants and bylaws of an association. For example, in California, Cal. Civ. Code §4715 was enacted, which prevented associations from enacting a blanket ban on pets.
While most associations are happy to accommodate pet owners so long as the pets are not a disturbance to other community members, laws like this are important to consider for associations that may decide a no-pet pet policy is the best choice for them.
All associations need to keep in mind the Fair Housing Act, which prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, sex, national origin, familial status, or disability. The Fair Housing Act requires providing reasonable accommodations for those with a disability, which can include having a service animal.
Challenges with Pet Policies for Homeowners Association Management
So you’ve already created a pet policy that the majority of your board members and residents agree upon and is in compliance with local, state, and federal laws? Congratulations! This is a huge step. But, it doesn’t mean that it’s smooth sailing from here. Like other association rules, just having policies in place doesn’t mean HOA management’s work is complete.
Having a plan in place for these common challenges will help your association weather any storm, even when it’s raining cats and dogs.
- Introducing policies – How do you plan to inform current homeowners of changes in pet policy? Will current residents be grandfathered in and allowed to comply with pre-existing regulations? How will prospective and new homeowners be educated about the guidelines?
- Enforcing regulations – How will your association enforce regulations? Will there be a grace period between initiation and enforcement? Who is responsible for enforcing the pet policy?
- Owners who do not comply – What is the plan for a pet owner who does not comply with regulations? Is there a warning? A fine? Legal action?
A pet policy is not a one-size-fits-all solution. Regulations that apply to dogs may not apply to fish. Ensure your pet policy is thorough enough to cover a variety of pets.
Dogs and Cats
The previously mentioned common regulations are a great place to start when crafting a pet policy that encourages harmony between residents and their canine and feline friends.
Leash laws should determine when and where dogs are required to be leashed. HOA management could require leashes in all public areas except designated off-leash walking trails or a dog park if space allows for it.
Proper pet waste disposal is vital for the health of the community. Disease can pass through pet waste left on the ground. Encourage proper disposal of waste with bags and bins throughout the community and have a plan for intervening if pet owners still do not comply.
For cats, homeowners association management may consider instating a limit on the number of cats per household. An excessive number of cats increases the likeliness of uncleanliness, and even disease, in a property. The right number may vary depending on the size of the units and land available. HOA management may also consider a fine for allowing cats to roam outside of the household.
For both dogs and cats, the homeowners association management may consider the following safety protocols:
- Requiring animals to be spayed or neutered
- Mandating up-to-date vaccinations with proof
- Asking that all animals wear identifying tags
Birds, Snakes, and Spiders—Oh My!
There are numerous other pets your pet policy can prepare for. A general rule of thumb is to consider what effect any animal can have on the safety and quality of life for their owners, their neighbors, the community, and the animal itself.
For noisy animals like birds, HOA management may consider regulations around noise levels and designated times noises from animals must be reduced. For all caged animals, from rodents to arachnids, management may consider enacting enforcements around providing proper food, habitats, and secure cages, ensuring that someone’s favorite snake doesn’t end up their neighbor’s worst nightmare.
Homeowners association management must remain fair and enforce pet policy equally among residents, including a standard plan for escalation if a homeowner doesn’t comply. This may begin with a warning and end with legal action.
Clear Communication is Key
Pet policies are put in place to create a harmonious and safe community for people and animals, but if they aren’t clearly laid out, it can lead to trouble. Transparency is a high value for HOA management teams.
Tensions could rise when a homeowner disagrees with a fine. Or, someone could build a fence for their new dog only to realize that the fence doesn’t follow regulations, wasting lots of money and resulting in anger. Avoid conflict with clear expectations and manage it with compassion when it arises to help make every resident happy with their HOA.
Pet policies should be communicated to residents living in the community, and to prospective homeowners. Families shopping for a home need to know if an HOA meets all of their needs, including their furry members! Homeowners association management can make sure it’s a great fit for everyone by clearly laying out expectations, rules, and consequences.