By David Swedelson, Senior Partner, SwedelsonGottlieb Condo Lawyer and HOA Attorney
Some condominium and homeowner association residents think that their pet is well trained and does not need to be leashed, and they ignore the association’s rules regarding leashes, believing they do not apply to their well-trained pet. They just do not get the fact that many people are afraid of dogs, especially when they are off leash. What they also do not understand is that just as a municipality has the power to cite a citizen for not having their dog on a leash, so too does a California condominium or homeowner association have the right to enforce its leash rules.
Most California community associations’ governing documents state that the board of directors has the power to make rules regarding, at the minimum, an owner’s use of the common area. This would certainly give the board the power to make a rule requiring that all residents keep their pets on leashes when on the common area.
While many people think that a leash only applies to dogs, it can also apply to cats. Why should an owner or resident be allowed to have their cat off leash on the common area while dogs are required to be on leashes? Sure, cats do not chase people and they do not usually attack and bite. But they do sometimes mess in the common area, and they can cause dogs that are left inside to bark. Follow this link for an article regarding an association that did enforce a rule that required that cats as well as dogs be on leashes while on the common area.
Associations also have the power to dictate the type of leash that an owner/resident must use. We often recommend that associations require the leashes be no longer than six (6) feet. The length of a leash is important, as many owners will use retractable leashes that may extend twenty feet or more, which is not appropriate at an association that may have many openings and narrow hallways. Imagine turning the corner to find a dog on a twenty foot leash turning the corner with their owner nowhere to be seen (and twenty feet behind). Many condominium or homeowner association residents have issues with dogs, as they are afraid of them. Even if another resident’s dog is well-trained, another resident may be fearful of that dog. Allowing it to be on a long retractable leash will cause concerns for those other residents that have concerns regarding other dogs.
Some dog owners will complain about the limitation placed on the length of the leash. Click here for an article regarding a veteran/amputee who insisted that he be allowed to use a twenty-four foot leash for his dogs. The courts said otherwise.
And there are other reasons to limit the length of a leash. We represent an association that had to deal with a terrible incident. Two residents entered the elevator, one with their dog on a retractable leash. They were talking and failed to notice that when the elevator door closed and the elevator began to rise that the dog was on the outside of the elevator, attached to the long retracting leash. Unfortunately, the dog did not survive the incident. Needless to say, this incident was horrific not only to the dog’s owner but the witnesses as well. We advised the board that they should limit the length of leashes that are allowed so that perhaps this would not happen again. And apparently, this is not an isolated situation (there is even a YouTube video showing a similar situation where the dog actually survived).
So California condo, HOA and stock cooperative associations do have the power and sufficient justification to implement rules regarding leashes, and they should enforce the requirement that all pets be on leashes no longer than six (6) feet within the common area.
Requiring that dogs be on leashes also limits the association’s potential liability for dog bites and other injuries. We have dealt with many instances where a resident attacked and injured by a dog that was off leash while in the common area has made claims against the association, contending that there was a lack of enforcement of the leash rule. Follow this link for an article regarding a lawsuit filed by the relatives of an 83-year old man who died more than two months after being attacked by a pit bull. The lawsuit states the dog, named Buddy, was “unleashed and running loose.” The lawsuit named the association and management as defendants for allegedly failing to enforce dog weight limits and leash laws in the covenants.
And it is also important to consider adding to the rules a requirement that not only must dogs be on a leash no longer then 6 feet, but that the person holding the leash be capable of controlling the dog. We have dealt with a number of incidents where the person holding the leash was unable to control the dog and the dog got loose and bit someone. In one case, the dog bit another smaller dog and broke its leg. In another incident, the dog knocked over a senior citizen, causing them injury.
And finally, and as long as we are dealing with leashes, follow this link to an article that addressed a proposal from a Arizona legislator to allow dogs to be off leash so long as the dog owner carried a certain level of insurance. Can you just imagine this scenario: “Oh, sorry my dog bit you, causing serious injury. But do not worry; I have the requisite level of insurance.” Lets hope that this law is not passed.
Be careful out there!
David Swedelson, Senior Partner at SwedelsonGottlieb Community Association Legal Expert He can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org