Important for Board to Spell out Pet Policy in Writing

Article excerpt

Byline: Jordan I. Shifrin

At some point a board of directors is going to be confronted with a problem concerning careless pet owners. It is important for all residents to know what the association's policy is regarding pets.

Subject to the restrictions imposed by local communities, keeping a pet is generally allowed unless specifically prohibited or limited by the declaration. A properly recorded declaration provides notice to all owners and an owner takes title to the unit subject to these restrictions. Investors must pass these restrictions along to their tenants.

The members of an association can either add a "no pet" clause or remove an existing restriction through an amendment to the declaration. If a declaration expressly or implicitly allows pets, then this is considered a vested property right that should be eliminated by an amendment. A modification of the rules and regulations is often not adequate.

However, an Illinois Appellate Court recently ruled a board could even eliminate dogs with a rule change. Though this approach may appear to be easier initially, it can cause more problems and possible litigation. That is why an amendment to the declaration is the preferred method.

Most court cases have established the principal of "grandfather" clauses for pet amendments, allowing the owner to keep the pet until it dies or the unit is sold. Each declaration and/or by-laws should set forth the requirements for any amendments to be adopted.

For some associations, a meeting may be necessary if the declaration provides for approval by a certain percentage of the membership, or it can merely be a written instrument approved by a certain percentage of the members.

Any amendment that restricts owners from keeping pets must be sensitive to the needs of pet owners at the time the amendment is approved. On the rare occasion an association wishes to proceed with an amendment that liberalizes pet restrictions, it should take into consideration the needs of those members who purchased their units in reliance on these restrictions. Neither of these circumstances is easy to handle and no solution will be completely satisfactory.

However, as in the case of any amendment, when a person buys a unit in a condominium, he or she should be aware the "power to amend" can change the quality of life at any time. This applies to pets, leasing, parking and so on.

Once a pet restriction has been adopted, the regulation must be consistently enforced. An accused resident must be given proper notice of any violation and a hearing before any punitive measures are taken. If the owner does not take advantage of an opportunity to present supporting evidence, a hearing should determine the outcome of the complaint. This is a basic principal of "due process of law" found in the United States and States Constitutions, as well as the Illinois Condominium Property Act, Sec. …