In light of the worldwide pandemic, many of us are spending more time indoors. We are working from home and isolating, which means we are also spending more time with our pets. In fact, adoptions and requests for foster animals are on the rise across the country. Many HOAs have specific rules and restrictions for pet ownership. If you are thinking about adding a furry animal to your family, this article will provide guidance on HOA rules and pet ownership best practices.

What You Need To Know

Be Informed. Reading your HOA’s governing documents is the most important thing to do if you own or are considering owning a pet in a community association. Many HOAs have “reasonable restrictions” on pet ownership such as limitations on species, weight and size, and breed. Although most HOAs allow pets, some communities completely prohibit them. Prohibition is most common in high-rise condominiums and other facilities that aren’t structurally fit for animals. Although it can be disappointing for pet lovers, no-pets policies are typically upheld in court as part of the HOA’s covenants, conditions and restrictions.

Service Animals. The one exception to no-pet policies comes from federal law that guarantees people with disabilities the right to own service animals. The Fair Housing Act (FHA) requires reasonable accommodations for assistance animals, and HOAs may not prevent a person with a disability from owning a service animal. Similarly, HOAs can’t put breed or size restrictions on service animals. Violating the FHA can come with severe penalties, so HOAs are typically aware and open to service animals.

Grandfathering. If an HOA changes its pet policy while you own a pet, you are most likely covered by a “grandfathering” custom. Pet owners may retain their animals in the event of new restrictions. It is important to note, however, that while homeowners may be able to keep their current pets, the new policy may prevent the addition of other pets or require adherence to the new policy with a change of home ownership.

Enforcement. If an owner is found to be in violation of the community association’s pet policy, governing boards typically issue sanctions or fines and are required to do so uniformly. It is important for board members to remember, however, that federal law supersedes all HOA policies.

What You Need To Do

Clean Up. Perhaps the most important issue for your community will be proper pet behavior and cleanup. Nuisance issues are a usual concern and often covered in your HOA’s pet policy. Associations often address noise or odor disturbances, disruptive behavior, and aggression or dangerous behavior. Again, knowing how your HOA regulates these issues will help you avoid violations. Though not a pleasant topic, the most common complaint is failure to clean up dog excrement. Not only is it unsightly, but it can lead to fecal-borne diseases and contaminate water supplies. Always be prepared with cleanup bags and be diligent to protect the cleanliness of common areas. Dispose of the bag properly—not in your neighbor’s trash can.

Veterinary Care. Beyond basic needs like shelter and food, your pet needs proper veterinarian care. Veterinarians can ensure adherence to vaccination schedules and spay or neuter your pet. Any animal that uses shared spaces, such as dogs that walk through common areas, must be up to date on vaccinations to prevent transmission of disease. Your veterinarian can also provide guidance on your pet’s weight and other health risks.

Registration. In addition to great veterinary care, have your pet registered properly in your HOA and in your county. Check your HOA’s governing policies to see what information to provide, such as application forms, breed verifications, photographs, etc. In addition, many cities and counties have registration requirements for pets. Visit your county’s website to learn how you can properly register your pet.

Pet Amenities. Some associations are quite pet friendly and even have pet-specific amenities. Dog parks are the most common, but you must be sure that your dog is ready to safely enjoy the park. Ensure that your dog is up-to-date on all vaccines and is not aggressive towards people or other dogs. Also be sure that your dog is mature enough to listen to basic commands. Dogs that are younger that 4 months typically are not ready, nor are dogs that are not properly trained. More than anything, pay attention to your dog while in any common space. If your HOA permits pets, you must abide by the association’s restrictions and ensure the safety and enjoyment of all homeowners in your community.