B.B. from Fairfield County, Connecticut writes:
Dear Mister Condo,
Our Condo rules state no pets. After sending a letter to the unit owner regarding this matter, they refuse to comply. How does the board enforce the condo rules? If we place a fine on the unit, for how long can this be done? What if they do not pay the fines? Do we now take the issue to our lawyers? Now, we have found out there are more dogs living in to our “No Pets Allowed” community.
Mister Condo replies:
B.B., enforcing pet rules at a condo community is almost always in all unit owners best interests. It is difficult because unlike a rule that disallows commercial vehicles from the property, removing pets often comes with the personal challenge of creating heartbreak, disappointment, and potential impoundment of the pets. No one wants to be The Wicked Witch of the West and get “you and your little dog, Toto, too”!
Rules and by-laws are designed to keep the community safe and the property values at their highest. The Board has a slew of weapons in its arsenal to get unit owners to behave by the rules they agreed to live by when they moved in. Start with your condo docs. Undoubtedly, there are a list of fineable offenses and the steps that the Board can take to remedy rule violations. Slow and steady is the course here. Don’t try to take shortcuts. In addition to your own by-laws, be sure to follow the rules for levying fines as laid out in the CT Common Interest Ownership Act (also known as CIOA). Basically, notice must be given to a unit owner that they have broken a rule and that there is intent to fine them for this infraction. They must be invited to attend the next Board meeting to refute this violation if they so wish. After they have had their chance to speak (or not speak if they do not show), go ahead and issue the fine as outlined in your condo docs. Fines are usually set at $10 to $25 and are meant to distract bad behavior and not act as an income stream for the association. Don’t think of fining as a way to get pet owners to pay $25 per day. Think of it as a way to get them to respect the rules.
If the rule violation continues, it is time to seek association counsel. You can take owners to court to get them to comply with the rules but this should really be a last resort. The courts can take a long time to hear these cases and hiring an attorney can be pricy, even though you may be able to sue the offensive party for reasonable attorney costs brought about by their actions. Also, I am sure most attorneys would advise you to make sure you have uniformly applied these rules and fines. In other words, you can’t just go after one unit owner for breaking the pet rule. If there are 20 offenders, go after all of them. Anything less could find the Board facing a discrimination lawsuit and you don’t want that. Good luck!