In every homeowners’ association (HOA), there are rules, regulations, and restrictions. There are almost always limitations on what homeowners can do to and on their properties. The depth and severity of those limitations depend on the HOA and its homeowners. Some communities are relatively lax, allowing homeowners a great deal of leeway and individuality. Other communities value continuity and severely restrict homeowners’ rights and privileges. In regard to pets, HOAs can have any number of policies, from no pet-related restrictions to banning pets altogether.

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What is a HOA?

If you purchase an individual single-family home, you do not have to join and adhere to the rules of an HOA. Each property owner can do what they want with their home. However, if you purchase a condominium, townhouse or row house, or a single-family home in a planned development, then you are required to join the HOA. This is an organization, governed by a board of directors made up of elected homeowners, which is responsible for managing and maintaining the shared aspects of the community. As a homeowner, you will pay a monthly, or sometimes annual, fee to the HOA. This fee goes toward maintaining common areas and shared structures or appliances. Your fee also goes toward a reserve fund, which can be used for larger projects.

The HOA also is responsible for enforcing the rules, regulations, and restrictions of the community. If you violate a regulation, the HOA will take enforcement steps against you, including requiring you to correct the issue and pay a fine.

HOAs can prohibit pets

While very few HOAs decide to prohibit all pets entirely from the property or planned development, they have the right to do so. Private entities like HOAs are not legally restricted from forming a “no pets” policy.

“I assume the HOA documents will deal with whether they can have pets or not have pets and whether there are any size restrictions. Some do and obviously, some don’t,” says real estate attorney Alan Hammer of Brach Eichler LLC. HOA’s have the right to limit pets as long as all restrictions are stated clearly in the legal documents. “If they’re silent on whether or not you can have pets and the association tries to prevent or preclude you from having, then you may very well have a lawsuit against the association.”

The more likely scenario is that an HOA restricts pet ownership in some way. Common limitations are on the number of pets you may have, size by weight, and breeds of dogs. For instance, an HOA may limit each household two pets or one pet per certain square footage. An HOA may say dogs are allowed, yet they must be under 50 pounds. Another typical restriction may be against “potentially dangerous breeds” or pets who have been deemed dangerous under the law for biting.

Pet-related rules are allowed

In addition to restrictions on pet ownership, HOAs may have rules related to pets on the property, such as requiring them to be leashed while in common areas, requiring homeowners to pick up their animal’s waste, and against excessive noise, like barking.

The HOA will have a procedure for how these rules will be enforced and how homeowners may be penalized for violating them. All of this is allowed so long as the HOA enforces the rules consistently.

HOAs cannot restrict service animals

While an HOA may have the right to ban pets, this right is not absolute. Federal housing and disability protection laws enable individuals with physical, mental, and emotional disabilities to have service animals. Even an HOA with a no pet policy cannot ban a resident from having a lawful service dog that is necessary for the owner’s productivity, health, and safety.

Yet there are controversies around this issue. There are differences between service animals and emotional support animals. Whether or not federal or state law protects an emotional support animal, which is not specifically trained or certified as a service animal, depends on the jurisdiction. An HOA should always speak with an attorney regarding these types of animals and how they can and should handle them.

When to speak to an attorney

There are several situations in which you should speak with an attorney if you are in a pet-related dispute with your HOA. A common issue with HOAs is when homeowners believe the pet policy violates the law. For example, if your state protects emotional support animals, yet the HOA has fined you for housing an emotional support pet, you should speak with a lawyer. An attorney will review federal and state laws regarding your pet and advise you of your legal options. 

Another common dispute arises when HOAs do not consistently enforce their rules. You may see that your neighbor has a dog that violates an HOA rule, such as owning a potentially dangerous breed or a dog over the weight limit, yet the neighbor is not fined. However, you may then face enforcement issues and fines for having a dog that does not adhere to the HOA’s rules. You should consult an attorney about your options in the face of such inconsistency, particularly if you believe it is a form of discrimination.

This article was originally published on February 08, 2019 and was updated to reflect the most current information.