The Joneses have a very friendly golden retriever named Sparky. But he is left off leash in the common areas of his homeowners association and the pooch walks up to the neighbors and jumps on them to greet them. The neighbors like the Joneses and Sparkys, but they have asked you to remind them to follow HOA rules and put their dog on a leash.
Or maybe you’re in a condo association that allows cats, but residents have complained that Mike in unit 249 has 13 of the feline creatures and the smell is becoming noticeable.
If your community association allows pets, but with restrictions, you need a plan for dealing with criminals. Here are five rules for dealing with negligent homeowners in your homeowners association.
1) Enforce the rules. Although you may like pets yourself, people have accepted your HOA in part because they liked the rules that governed owner behavior. It’s your job – and fiduciary duty – as a board member of your homeowners association to enforce those rules. It doesn’t matter that Sparky is friendly. If neighbors are breaking the rules, and your neighbors’ ability to live in peace has diminished, put on your enforcement hat and do your job as a member of the HOA board.
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 record of incidents and document them in as many ways as possible. Take pictures, record the barking, and ask unhappy neighbors in your Homeowner’s Association to write a complaint. Only when you have strong evidence that there is a problem should you approach the owners to resolve it.
3) Request compliance. Before you fall like an anvil on your HOA owners who don’t realize the stress their pets are causing, taste the honey first. Either in person or by letter, explain the problem and ask for it to be corrected. It’s hard for homeowners to get angry or dismissive if you’re in front of them, so a personal discussion can resolve the issue more quickly. However, if you go that route, document the discussion immediately afterward. Be specific in explaining the problem and the actions you need landlords to take, and don’t threaten them with fines or other punitive actions. The time for threats may come, but at this stage they can backfire.
4) Follow-up. After informing the owner of complaints and requesting a resolution, check back to see if the problem has been corrected. If not, get tough. Now is the time to remind homeowners of the rules and the penalties for breaking them. Review the governing documents to make sure you know your options. Then write a letter explaining the problem, your efforts to solve it, and the fact that it has not been fixed. Explain that if the problem is not corrected within a certain time, the HOA process will begin to deal with non-compliant homeowners. Keep that promise and take whatever steps are necessary to keep homeowners compliant.
5) Be compassionate. If the owners are in a difficult position, perhaps they have too many cats or dogs, but they don’t want to give them up because they fear they will be euthanized, volunteer to help. You may be thinking that’s beyond the call of duty, and you’re probably right. But if you don’t have the time or temperament to help owners, ask an animal lover from your homeowners association to accept the point. The job may require phone calls to local shelters or posting information about the pets on adoption websites, but the result is likely to be positive. If you take that route, everyone wins.