Dog attacks in HOA communities may not happen often, but it is important to know what to do in the event that they do. Are homeowners associations liable in such instances?
Who Is Liable for Dog Attacks in HOA Communities?
First of all, as a member of your HOA board, you must know that the association is responsible for many things. One of these is the fiduciary duty to maintain the common areas. This means the HOA must reasonably keep common spaces safe and free from any hazards. If there are dangers, the HOA must provide adequate warning.
This duty also translates to dog attacks in HOA communities. The dog may not belong to the association, but if the attack or injury happens on HOA property, then it is likely that a court may find the association liable. HOA property includes common areas such as amenities, facilities, private streets, elevators, and the like.
The Role of Negligence in an HOA
When dog attacks happen in an HOA, it is never the result of an association’s intentional desire to endanger its residents or guests. More often than not, dog bits in HOA communities occur due to negligence either on the owner’s part or on the association’s part.
For example, if a dog manages to escape because of improper fencing and bites a fellow member, resulting in severe injury, the HOA could be very well liable.
Sure, the owner of the dog should have kept their pet on a leash or in a cage, but it is important to consider the fence here as well. Improper or damaged fencing directly contributed to the dog’s escape and subsequent attack. If it is the HOA’s responsibility to maintain the fence, then the HOA holds liability.
Even if it is the owner’s responsibility to maintain the fence, the HOA should have taken action. Improper fencing is likely a violation of the association’s CC&Rs. In that case, the HOA should have enforced its own rules by ordering the owner to fix the fence and even issuing fines for non-compliance.
How to Avoid Homeowners Association Liability
Liability is among the chief concerns of HOA boards. When it comes to dog attacks in HOA communities, there are a few ways to avoid liability:
1. Take Complaints Seriously
The first way to prevent HOA liability is to take resident complaints seriously. If a member has already raised an issue with a damaged fence, look into it as soon as possible. Some people may also complain about a particularly aggressive dog or lax dog owner. If such issues have been brought to your attention and you did nothing about them, then liability will certainly follow.
Remember that HOA boards must maintain the community. A big part of your job is listening to complaints from your membership and taking action where necessary.
2. Enforce Rules Consistently
There have been many cases wherein HOAs don’t follow their own rules. For example, an HOA could fail to maintain its common areas to keep residents safe or fail to enforce rules against dog owners.
If your rules say that owners should maintain their own fences, make sure to inspect them for any damages or violations. Holes, for instance, are easy exits for dogs. Additionally, you must see to it that you call attention to any violations immediately. Send a violation letter to offenders and levy a fine if you must.
3. Enact an HOA Pet Policy
It is also wise for your HOA board to come up with a pet policy. A good pet policy outlines the restrictions that all pet owners must adhere to. For instance, you may want to prohibit dogs from entering certain common areas. Make sure to inform all residents of your updated policy and consider putting up signs to reinforce these rules as well.
What to Include in Your HOA Pet Rules
While pet restrictions can vary from one association to another, here are the ones you should consider applying:
- Limit the number of pets per household
- Restrict the breed, size, and weight of the dogs that owners can keep
- Require owners to keep their dogs leashed when in common areas
- Owners must clean up after their pets
- Make it clear that owners are liable for any injuries or damages caused by their dogs
In addition, your HOA should prohibit certain behaviors, such as:
- Aggressive or dangerous dogs
- Noisy dogs
- Biting or injuring residents or guests
- Fighting with other dogs
What Counts as an Aggressive Dog?
While it is easy to prohibit aggressive dogs in HOAs, there is a debate as to what counts as an aggressive dog. To avoid such discussions, make sure to clearly define “aggressive dogs” in your CC&Rs. Here are some definitions that can help you out:
- An aggressive dog is a dog that attacks or harms another being (human or pet) unprovoked.
- An aggressive dog is any dog that displays or is known for attacking or harming other beings (human or pet) unprovoked.
- An aggressive dog is a dog that approaches another being (human or pet) in a seemingly hostile manner.
- Any dog that is involved or was involved in dogfighting.
Considering a No Pets Policy
With all this commotion over dog attacks in HOA communities, you may wonder if you are just better off banning pets altogether. Although this is definitely an option, you must also consider state laws and the effects of a no-pets policy on your membership.
For one thing, there are a few states that limit the restrictions you can place when it comes to pets. For instance, according to California Civil Code §4715, homeowners associations are not allowed to prohibit members from keeping at least one pet. Make sure to check your state laws prior to enacting pet rules. Otherwise, your HOA may encounter liability in your attempt to avoid it.
Additionally, many people treat their pets as a part of the family. Therefore, imposing a no-pets policy could scare away potential homeowners. Existing residents may also express their disapproval of the policy because they would like the option of adopting pets to remain available to them.
Protecting Your HOA from Liability
When it comes to preventing dog attacks in HOA communities, exercising thoroughness is paramount. Make sure to be thorough in everything you do — from enacting pet policies and enforcing the rules to maintaining the common areas of your community. You should also prepare to defend your HOA in the event of liability by purchasing adequate insurance.
Some associations choose to hire an HOA management company to take care of such matters. If you wish to do the same, Cedar Management Group is the perfect choice. Call us today at (877) 252-3327 or contact us online for a free proposal.
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