J.B. from New Haven County writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Hi! I have lived in a condo association for 12 years in New Haven. For 11 of those years I have had 2 dogs. I have unknowingly been in violation of the bylaws for these 11 years. Our by-laws state that we can only have 1 dog and 2 cats. I have 2 dogs, 0 cats. Just recently we received notification that they would be enforcing the pet regulations, and if we do not comply we will be hit with progressively increasing fines. I have tried to research this with regard to a grandfather clause. I understand that Florida has a law that after 5 years of unenforced regulation, they cannot require a person to give up their pet but they can enforce from any new owners/pets from a point forward. The notification went to all unit owners. I am not being singled out, but after 11 years of owning my dogs, without enforcement – knowing several other owners also have 2+ dogs, I would think I would be grandfathered. Could I get your thoughts?
Mister Condo replies:
J.B., as a fellow dog lover my thoughts are that this is a difficult situation for you, for the Board of your condo, and certainly for your pets. When you moved into your condo 12 years ago you were provided a complete set of condo documents that included, among other things, your by-laws. May I ask why the Board has had a change of heart with regards to enforcing these rules now? Are unit owners demanding that these rules be followed now? It seems awfully cruel to enforce a rule like this after 11 years of not doing so. Whatever their reason, there is no law that I am aware of that grandfathers in your pets or makes the Board’s action unenforceable. If other owners of multiple dogs are not also cited and fined for violating the one dog rule, you would have a case for discrimination.
I might suggest you propose your own version of a grandfathering rule that your Board may be amenable to. Why not allow those unit owners who currently have two dogs the opportunity to keep their existing dogs as long as they agree that they will not bring any additional dogs into the association until their current pets pass? While dogs can live a long time, they don’t live forever and the problem should take care of itself in just a few years time. The Board gets to enforce the association’s one dog per unit rule and the current unit owners don’t have to find new homes for one of their beloved pets.
As for their enforcement of the rule, you may be able to challenge the association in court if it comes to that. The Board does need to follow a series of steps as outlined in the Common Interest Ownership Act before they issue fines, escalating or otherwise. They must first provide written notice to any unit owner accused of violating the rule. They must invite any accused unit owner to a Board meeting to tell their side of the story. They can then issue a fine if they are satisfied that a rule was broken and a violation has occurred. The schedule of fines is also documented in your condo docs. They cannot simply escalate fines at their desire. They have to follow the rules, too.
I hope it doesn’t come to that, J.B.. I have one other thought for you to consider. If there are enough unit owners who feel as you do and the Board is not receptive to your idea of allowing the existing dogs to live out their natural lives in the condo, it may be time to vote some new Board people into office that will see it your way. Board members are democratically elected volunteers. They need to serve the best interest of the community and maintain the popular vote to do so. Be ready to answer the call yourself if necessary. I wish you all the best!