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Pets Behaving Badly - Pet Restrictions in Community Associations: Part 2

Taking enforcement action against a neighbor is never pleasant; however, it can become particularly burdensome when pets are involved.  It is a Board member’s duty to enforce the governing documents, and some violations can be relatively easy to address (including failure to leash or clean up after a pet).  Enforcements regarding pets become difficult when the violation is more serious and requires removal of a pet.  A more serious violation would include if a pet is in violation of a weight rule or if a pet bites someone. 

It is incredibly important that if faced with any violation that all of the proper procedures are followed.  All condominiums must follow the statutory procedure for enforcement as set forth in the Ohio Condominium Act, regardless of the language in your documents.  For homeowners associations, you must follow the procedures set out in your declaration and bylaws, and if your documents are silent, then the procedure set out in the Planned Community Act must be followed.

The statutes for both condominium and homeowners associations require that prior to taking any enforcement action, the Board must give the owner written notice of the violation.  The notice must state the violation along with citing the provisions of the governing documents that have been violated.  The notice must also include the amount of any proposed enforcement assessment, a date by which the violation must be cured to avoid the assessment, and a statement notifying the owner that they have a right to a hearing to dispute the enforcement.  If an owner chooses to have a hearing, they must notify the Board in writing no more than ten (10) days after receipt of the notice.  Failure to request the hearing in that time waives the right to a hearing.  When a hearing is requested, no enforcement assessment may be imposed until after the hearing is held.  A final determination must be given to the owner in writing no later than thirty (30) days after the hearing.

As an association it is also important to know and understand the local ordinances. Many municipalities have specific consequences when an animal bites a person, such as a required quarantine period or muzzling of the animal when it is outside.  Some municipalities may have consequences for when an animal bites another animal.  Others may have specific exceptions that include police dogs residing with police officers, or animals that are defending the home or the owner.  It is important to contact the proper authorities immediately when any type of serious incident occurs.  This is important both for the safety of the residents, as well as enforcing your documents.  Any time an owner contacts the Board to report an animal bite, it is important to remind the owner to call the police and the proper authorities to file the necessary reports, and to be seen by a physician, if necessary.  The owner should provide the Board with a copy of these reports.

Many governing documents contain a provision that allow for the removal of an animal from the property upon written demand by the Board.  Often the owner will have a specific number of days within which to remove the animal if the requirements of the provision are met.   Some allow removal for nuisance type issues, and others for more specific offenses, such as biting other animals or persons.  It is important to understand the extent and the limitations of the Board’s power based on what is in your documents.  In a situation where the local authorities are involved, the owner will be much more likely to comply with the Association’s demands.  Reports from local authorities create an extensive and convincing paper trail for the Association to use to support enforcement.

In cases where none of the avenues provided are successful, the Board has the authority to file an action with the Court for the removal of the animal from the property.  This is most often a last resort.  If the Association can prove to the Court that it has done its due diligence by involving local authorities, when necessary, as well as given the owner all the proper notices and due process under the governing documents, the Court tends to be more sympathetic to the Association than it would be otherwise. 

In our practice, a trend is apparent that Courts do not like to take animals away from their owners unless there is good reason and ample evidence to support the removal.  For that reason, if your Association is faced with a problematic animal, please contact us to help you establish the proper method to deal with the specific issue and enforcement.

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