Homeowner Associations (HOA) Boards are authorized to issue rules ensuring people can live safely within their communities and maintain the association’s assets, including building infrastructures, landscaping, pools, walkways, and other common elements.
One increasingly important aspect that HOAs control is animal ownership. As of 2023, 62% of U.S. households own a pet (with 51% of pet owners viewing their pet as a part of their family). Clearly, pet ownership is an important aspect of people’s lives. HOAs need to know what HOA animal policies they can enforce for their communities.
Why do HOA animal policies exist?
HOA animal policies are designed to ensure the safety and health of residents, including mental health. Moreover, prospective unit buyers often look for associations with minimal pet rules. Clear guidelines help the entire community coexist peacefully with the residents’ beloved pets.
These covenants, conditions, restrictions, and board-made rules are not always a total ban on having any kind of pet—though ‘no pet’ communities do exist.
Common restrictions include:
- Not allowing for specific types of pets, such as exotic animals and pets and breeds not permitted by the relevant city ordinances
- Setting a maximum number of pets
- Rules around aggressive behavior
- Bans on commercial breeding
- Registering a pet with the HOA
- Leashing while walking pets
- Spaying/neutering regulations
- Proper waste disposal
- Noise levels such as barking dogs as well as non-stop barking
- Limitations on property damage
Are there exceptions?
The Federal Fair Housing Act and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) guarantee residents the right to have service animals, ensuring people living with disabilities can enjoy a greater quality of life. However, according to the ADA, only dogs can be denoted as service animals and must provide essential functions distinguishing them from pets. Service animals also require special training.
Many people also have emotional support animals (ESAs), which provide comfort and relief. However, the law considers emotional support animals separate from service animals, which are not protected by the ADA. This law means that HOA animal policies may state emotional support animals are not permitted, though exceptions are often made. These exceptions include unit owners with visible and apparent emotional issues or non-visible emotional issues acknowledged by a healthcare professional. Double-check state laws on ESAs to confirm what language your HOA board can include about emotional support animals in the bylaws.
There are also exceptions for people who already own a pet. These are Grandfather Clauses, which kick in when a community decides to go ‘no pet.’ It prevents undue stress on families that wish to remain with their beloved pets.
How should HOAs manage their pet policies?
HOAs are responsible for making their animal policies clear to all association members. Ensuring board members and residents are informed makes it easier to enforce policies.
Additionally, HOAs should be clear on what they can and cannot ask for:
- Understand that asking individuals about their specific disability violates the ADA. HOAs may only ask whether the dog is a service animal required because of a disability and what work or task the dog performs.
- However, states often require licenses and registration for service animals, and HOAs can request them.
Another critical aspect of effective HOA animal policies is for the Board to understand the laws around pet ownership rights at the national, state, and local levels. Always follow these laws and ensure policies comply. Updating policies to remain compliant should be done as transparently as possible to avoid confusion among association members—while providing exceptions for those pet owners who have built their lives around policies that may have changed. When a member challenges a rule, it is the best practice for the board to obtain advice from an attorney.
HOAs are there to help everyone
Ultimately, HOA animal policies exist for the benefit of both the HOA Board and its members. Many of these policies simply require pet owners to clean up after their pets and ensure they are not disturbing other residents. As a result, most pet owners are more than willing to comply with HOA animal policies.
Banning pets altogether does not reflect the current state of pet ownership in the U.S. Instead, HOAS should have clear, transparent HOA animal policies compliant with laws such as the ADA. The result will be safe and appealing communities where HOAs do not have to deal with pet-related problems.
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