Tag Archives: Pets

Does Condo Support Animal Count as a Pet?

W.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I am the President of our condo association. Our condo rules allow two pets under a certain weight limit. We have a person that presented a certificate stating their dog (overweight) is a support animal due to her husband’s depression issues. The dog was allowed but now they are bringing in two cats stating the dog is not a pet. The dog is clearly a pet. Can we stick to the two-pet rule?

Mister Condo replies:

W.S., I am sorry to say that a support animal is not a pet and, therefore, not subject to the total count of pets allowed. This is a bone of contention around the country and there are some instances where the courts are saying “enough is enough” with folks taking advantage of the support animal exemption that allows them to easily skirt rules. Perhaps you heard story of an emotional support pig recently kicked off of an airplane flight? It seems that this craziness isn’t going away any time soon. In the meantime, don’t get yourself or your association into a lawsuit you will likely lose over this. Speak with a locally qualified attorney that specializes in community association law. Ask about recent cases and how the local courts are likely to respond if a suit were brought. The overweight support animal may be the one you can challenge in court based on the animal’s weight – not it’s stated purpose as a support animal. If the attorney advises you to proceed, that is your call. Short of that, unless the laws change, my advice is to let these folks enjoy their two pets and let them have their support animal as well. Be thankful they didn’t bring a support pig into your community! All the best!

Condo Owner’s Cat Roams Freely on Common Grounds

L.K. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I live in a condo association. I have a cat that goes outside. One day my cat killed a bird and one of the neighbors in the condo association came to me and was very upset about it, asking if I could rehome my pet, which I promptly told her I was not going to do that. She then demanded that I keep my cat indoors, which I told her I would try to do, but couldn’t guarantee she wouldn’t get out from time to time. She then threatened to write a complaint to the board if I couldn’t keep the cat indoors. Our bylaws state that we can have two pets, and that you must clean up after them and keep them if they are dogs leashed. Does this neighbor have a case against us?

Mister Condo replies:

L.K., without seeing your physical condo documents and reading what they say about pet ownership, it is impossible for me to offer you an opinion. Typically, pets are not allowed to free roam on condo grounds. There are usually leash rules in addition to clean-up rules and noise rules as well. If your association has no such rule about having the pet leashed, your neighbor may not have a case. However, allowing a pet to roam free over condo grounds can have other consequences for the association, most notably liability for damage or injury caused by the pet. For that reason alone, pets (dogs, cats, or other) are typically required to be leashed and under the unit owner’s control and supervision. My friendly advice to you is to not let your pet roam freely. It is safer for you, your neighbors, and your association, not to mention the occasional bird you kitty might decide to feast on. Good luck!

Weight Limit for Pets in the Condo

C.J. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We would like to have a weight limit for dogs at our condo. We have discussed anywhere from 20 – 40 lbs. per dog. This is our preference to listing “dangerous breeds,” as we know that is harder to defend in court. Do many condos restrict dogs by weight; and, if so, what is a good weight-per-dog rule?

Mister Condo replies:

C.J., that is a great question! Many condominiums have simply chosen to restrict pets so as to avoid the great debate about which is more dangerous – an untrained dog or an untrained owner! You are wise to avoid the battle of breed classification with regards to the danger they present. Simple weight restrictions are far more defendable and fairly easy to enforce. In my experience, 20 pounds seems to be the most common but there are certainly no rules on weight restrictions and an aggressive Dachshund can be far more trouble than a gentle Great Dane. The real trick is getting buy-in from your current unit owners. What is the current make-up of the pet population in the association? Pet owners with pets larger than 20 pounds are not too likely to vote in favor of a weight restriction that could stop them from replacing a current pet when the time comes. If your community is serious about adding these restriction, you may want to speak to your association attorney about the proper procedure to do so. Also, keep in mind that assistance animals and Emotional Support Animals (ESA) may be immune from your rules. Good luck!

Condo Seeks to Ban Pets for Renters

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K.B. from Hartford County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Our Association allows unit owners to have dogs. Can the Association prohibit renters or lessees from having dogs?

Mister Condo replies:

K.B., the short answer is “yes” but be careful. I am not an attorney so please accept my advice as friendly. For a proper legal opinion on amending your documents properly, I must insist that you speak with a qualified attorney. Many associations have rules about banning pets in rental units. However, if these rules aren’t in place as part of the original condo docs (most aren’t) then the documents need to be amended to reflect the changes. That means following the proper procedure for amending the documents, often requiring a full vote of all unit owners, not just the Board. The issue is that a unit owner who purchased a unit with the intent of renting it out did so based on the rules in place at the time of purchase. Changing those rules after the unit is purchased may create difficulty for the landlord unit owner who should be allowed a vote on the issue before the documents are amended. Depending on the make-up of your association, the rule may or may not pass. Condos with high concentration of landlord owners are not likely to pass a rule that restricts who the landlord can rent to. Condos with high concentrations of resident unit owners are very likely to pass such a rule. Finally, keep in mind that even with a rule in place prohibiting renters from having pets, that rule does not apply to any emotional service animal. If a renter has a note from a health care professional that the dog or cat they own provides emotional support, it is not considered a pet. The association cannot ban emotional support animals from residents regardless of their status as owners or renters. All the best!

Condo Trespassers Bringing Their Dogs to Condo Grounds

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P.B. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I have a question on fines. We are fined if our dogs go on the grass or common areas within our condo area. However, people often come from outside areas and their dogs go but nothing happens to them. Can the condo board fine it’s own members while letting outsiders off with nothing?

Mister Condo replies:

P.B., why would the association allow trespassers on association property? That is the real question here. Yes, the Board can and should fine unit owners who violate the rules. Trespassers should be reported to the police. The Board should put up signs instructing the general public that trespassing is not allowed and then work with local law enforcement to enforce the trespassing restrictions. The condo Board has no jurisdictional governance power over the general public. That is the work of local law enforcement. Maintaining the order within the community association and its own members is the job of the Board. Living in a community association means living by the rules of the association. No rule breaking equals no fines and a happy community. All the best!

Claws Out Over HOA Cat Enclosure!

 

mc_horrifiedJ.M. from North Carolina writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We wanted to allow our HOA-legal indoor cats onto the porch. I scoured the governing docs for regulations. Nothing. I put up nylon deer netting, almost invisible, to contain the cats. All was well until an election installed a new HOA President. He made people remove chicken wire from porches, citing an “unsightly” clause in our docs. Now, I’ve received a violation letter for the netting. It says it is a health hazard and unsightly. There is no definition of “unsightly” in the docs. There is no clause that the Board has the right to define it. The violation letter also doesn’t meet the criteria that is clearly spelled out in the docs for what must be contained in a violation letter. The HOA President has given me a 4-day timeframe to remove the netting, also against what it says in the docs. When the HOA contacts me again, I plan to tell them they are not empowered to do anything until they present a violation letter that meets the criteria set forth in the governing docs, then I have “not less than 10 days” to contest in writing, then a hearing date must be set. In the mean time, I’ve gotten statements from the Town Fire Chief and County Health Department stating that the netting does not present a health risk. At my eventual hearing, I plan to debunk the “unhealthy” part of the complaint with the letters and ask for records of complaints by other owners, names expunged, against my unit porch for being “unsightly.” (There aren’t any.) I have asked the HOA for a solution that allows my cats on the porch, without assaulting their sensibilities. Crickets. What else can I do? Who gets to decide the definition of “unsightly” when one isn’t in the governing docs and the HOA is not specifically empowered to define it?

Mister Condo replies:

J.M., it sounds like you took a reasonable approach in setting up a suitable area for you and your cats to enjoy some outdoor time for you and your cats. However, the netting is being attached to a building exterior and, as such, may be subject to compliance with your HOAs rules on architectural modifications. That being said, your letter states that the Board is choosing to go with a questionable “unsightly” clause in your documents that you say doesn’t even exist. Further, the Board is not observing due process and appears to be making it up as they go. This is unfortunate for all involved.

Needless to say, you have rights as defined in your HOA documents and further in state law. Should it come to a civil suit where you bring charges against your Board, you would likely win. However, that doesn’t prevent the Board from coming back at you with a violation of architectural compliance, which they would likely prevail. The bottom line is that the Board is the ultimate authority for enforcement of the HOA’s rules and regulations but they do need to play by the rules when it comes to enforcing violations. I do not believe in this instance they have done so but that doesn’t mean things will be easy for you. If they persist in their line of attack, you may need to seek counsel and bring a suit against the Board to simply enjoy some outdoor time with your cats. At some point, the cost of remedy may outweigh the reward of winning. All the best!

Condo Board’s Attorney Expenses Against Renter Passed on to Landlord Owner

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G.P. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

We are condo owners who hired a manager to rent out our condo. He lied about a German Shepherd in our rental…above weight restriction. As owners, we had no idea the dog was in our rental. The condo association wanted the dog gone, hired a lawyer, etc… Back & forth for five months with renters. They got a doctor’s note and hired a lawyer, claiming the animal was an emotional support animal for depression. The condo association continued with the lawyer and lawyer’s fees after receiving the doctor’s note/lawyer’s letter. Now the condo association is coming after us for the lawyer fees…$1500! Our property manager & ourselves no longer have a contract. HELP. We are caught between the renters & the condo association.

Mister Condo replies:

G.P., the courts around the country have not taken kindly to HOAs aggressively going after condo dwellers who present doctor’s notes in support of animals that are classified as Emotional Support Animals (ESAs). I am not sure what you mean by “coming after us” for the lawyer’s fees run up by the association or if these fees predate the ESA letter presented by the tenants. Until that letter was presented, the lawyer’s fees may be justified and you may be liable. Rental agent or not, the association’s rules were being broken up until that point and the association has a right to pursue remedy for their legal expenses against you, the unit owner. However, once the doctor’s note was presented, all legal activities should have stopped. If the attorney’s fees the association is trying to collect are for bills from the attorney for hours spent after the note was presented, you should refuse to pay that portion of the bill. As a matter of contract, you may be able to sue the rental agent for renting the unit to a dog owner in violation of the rental terms, but only for the amount of damages in attorney’s fees levied against you before the doctor’s note was presented.

I realize that all of this sounds confusing and, since I am not an attorney, my advice to you is to hire an attorney if you need to. My first instinct would be to refuse to pay these fees and see how serious the association is about pursuing a remedy against you. Once all of the facts are known about the timeframe of these attorney fees, you will know whether or not you have a legal leg to stand on. Also, the amount in question may be easier to pay and write off than to fight. This is a business decision you can make once all of the facts are known. Either way, this should be a good lesson to learn regarding future rental of your unit. Allow no pets and make sure that any ESA that will reside in the unit is well-document so that the association cannot challenge the animal’s eligibility to live in the unit. All the best!

Condo Dog Owner Responsibility

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R.M. from New Haven County writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

What is a dog owner’s responsibility at the condo? Who do I complain to if I see dogs behaving badly?

Mister Condo replies:

R.M., condominiums that allow dogs often do so with a list of accompanying rules that is the responsibility of the Board of Directors to enforce. It is common for associations to limit the number and/or size of allowed dogs so as to keep the peace within the association. Among the more common rules are that pets must be kept on leash at all times in the common areas, unit owners are responsible for cleaning up after their pets, and barking is to be kept to a minimum. As long as unit owners are responsible pet owners, dogs and condos often coexist quite comfortably. However, all it takes is one irresponsible owner who doesn’t follow the rules on pet ownership and many challenges can ensue. Dogs left unattended during the day while their owners are at work can bark uncontrollably for hours. Dog waste that is not properly disposed of creates a health hazard and a sanitary nightmare for many associations. Aggressive dogs that are not kept leashed can bite or intimidate other unit owners. All of these are problems that should be addressed by the Board of Directors in the form of warning letters, fines, and even eviction of dog owners who refuse to follow the rules. If your condo has a property manager, the job of enforcement may also fall under the property manager’s job description. As a unit owner, you may report any rules violations you observe to the Board and/or the Property Manager. It is then their job to take enforcement action. Hope that helps!

Condo Rules on Number of Dogs Allowed Changed

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L.I. from Massachusetts writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

I bought a condo 11 years ago I was assured you could have 2 pets. They changed the pet policy to 1 pet 5 years ago or so they say. I assumed that I was grandfathered in for 2 dogs which is 1 reason I purchased this condo as I new I would have 2 dogs. Well, I just added my second dog and was told no. I am not grandfathered. Is this correct? Can the rules be changed just like that? 2 dogs is a lifestyle choice. Like 2 kids would be. Do I have to move out?

Mister Condo replies:

L.I., I am sorry you find yourself in this predicament. Associations are free to change the rules about how many animals are allowed within the units of the condominium. Of course, they need to follow the association’s rules on governance as outlined in the condominium documents as well as state and local law. As far as I know, there are no rights to have dogs and there is no grandfathering clause inherent in the fact that the rules were a certain way when you purchased your condo but have since changed. Also, the term grandfathering as applied here would refer to the existing dog’s at the time of the rule change. Once one of the dogs had passed, there would be no need for grandfathering as you would then have been in compliance with the one dog rule.

All of that being said, let’s talk about how your Board behaves with regards to making and enforcing rules. Condominiums are governed by a Board of Directors (Trustees, in your state) These folks are elected by their fellow unit owners to handle the business of the association and to make governance decisions that are in the best interest of the community. When rules are changed, community members must be properly notified. Also, accurate records of the meetings where rules changed must be kept by the association and made available to unit owners like you upon request.

When people write to me and use terms like “I was assured” and “so they say”, I get concerned over the proper governance of the association. Rules, Minutes of Meetings, and other governance documents are in writing. There is no need for someone to “assure you” or “tell you” anything. You can request these items and read them for yourself. If you feel your rights have been violated, you would be wise to seek the counsel of an attorney who could better advise you if you have a case to be allowed more than one dog as is your desire. If not, you may just have to live with “so they say” and either agree to one dog or find another place to call home. Either way, I wish you and your furry friends the best of luck.

Condo Will Not Renew Leases For Tenants With Pets

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H.S. from outside of Connecticut writes:

Dear Mister Condo,

Recently, our board had the manager send out a letter informing all people who rent units in our condo that when their lease was up that, if they have a dog or cat in the unit, they will no longer be able to lease that unit when their lease runs out. Yes, our documents say that only owners may have pets but that rule has not been observed for many, many years (at least 10 maybe more). If they want to do this don’t they have to pass a new rule about it and aren’t the renters here who already have pets grandfathered in?

Mister Condo replies:

H.S., rules enforcement is at the discretion of the Board. Since the rule was already on the book, renters who entered the community with pets did so at the violation of the existing rule, even though there was no enforcement at the time. In fact, I believe the Board can begin enforcing the rule immediately by serving notice that the renter with the pet is in violation of the association’s rules. They are actually being quite kind by extending the notice to when the lease is ended. What the Board cannot do is indiscriminately enforce the rule so as to target one particular unit owner or renter. I am not an attorney and cannot speak to the legal aspects of refusing to allow renters with pets to remain after their lease has expired but there may be some cases where discrimination can be claimed. I would advise concerned renters to seek the legal opinion of an attorney to see if they have any housing or renter’s rights in your state. Other than that, renters with pets should consider finding new rentals so as not to face lawsuits and possible eviction from the association after they begin enforcing the rule. Conversely, if enough unit owners feel the rule should be removed, they could ask the Board to vote on removing the restriction. My guess is that the Board will not be willing to do that and that there has been some incident that is now putting this chain of events into action. Good luck!