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5 Rules For Solving Pet Problems in Your Homeowners Association – A Guide For HOA Board Members

The Joneses have a very friendly Golden Retriever named Sparky. But they let him hang out in the common areas of your homeowner’s association, and the mutt bonds with the neighbors and jumps up to say hello. The neighbors like the Joneses and Sparky, but have asked you to remind them to follow HOA rules and leash their dog.

Or maybe you’re in an apartment association that allows cats, but residents have complained that Mike in unit 249 has 13 of the cat critters and the smell is noticeable.

If your community association allows pets – but with restrictions – you need a plan to deal with rogues. Here are five rules for addressing negligent landlords in your homeowner’s association.

1) Apply the rules. While you may be a pet lover yourself, people have bought into your HOA in part because they liked the rules governing owner behavior. It is your job – and fiduciary duty – as a board member of your homeowner’s association to enforce these rules. Never mind that Sparky is friendly. If the Joneses are breaking the rules — and their neighbors’ ability to live peacefully is diminished — put on your enforcement hat and do your job as an HOA board member.

2) Document the problem. If the Wilson family lets their dogs out at 6 a.m. every day and allows them to bark until they go to work at 7:30 a.m., start taking notes. Create a log of incidents and document them in as many ways as possible. Take pictures, record the barking, and have disgruntled neighbors in your HOA file a complaint. Only when you have solid evidence that there is a problem should you approach the owners to resolve it.

3) Ask for compliance. Before you come down like an anvil on the owners in your HOA who ignore the tension their pets are causing, try the honey first. Either in person or by letter, explain the problem and ask for it to be fixed. It’s hard for owners to be angry or dismissive if you’re standing in front of them, so a face-to-face conversation can resolve the issue more quickly. If you go this route, however, document the conversation immediately afterward. Be specific in explaining the problem and what actions owners need to take, and don’t threaten them with fines or other punitive actions. The time for threats may come, but at this stage they may be counterproductive.

4) Monitoring. After informing the owner that there have been complaints and requesting a resolution, check back to assess whether the problem has been fixed. If not, be tough. Now is the time to remind owners of the rules and the penalties for breaking them. Check your government documents to make sure you know your options. Then write a letter explaining the problem, your efforts to resolve it, and the fact that it hasn’t been fixed. Explain that if the problem is not corrected within a certain amount of time, you will begin the HOA’s process of dealing with non-compliant homeowners. Keep this promise and take all necessary actions to bring landlords into compliance.

5) Be compassionate. If homeowners are in a difficult position—perhaps they have too many cats or dogs but don’t want to give them up because they’re afraid they’ll be euthanized—volunteer to help. You might think this is above and beyond the call of duty, and you’d probably be right. But if you don’t have the time or temperament to help the owners, ask an animal lover in your homeowner’s association to take up the matter. The work may require calling local shelters or posting information about the pets on adoption websites, but chances are the outcome will be positive. If you go this route, everyone wins.

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