This post was reviewed by Nicholas A. Battaglia, Esq., an attorney licensed in New York and New Jersey. He is owner and legal content writer for a law practice marketing firm and a realty group focusing on new construction builds in upstate New York, where he lives with his lovely wife and his counselor-at-bark Flora, a mixed breed rescue.
Can a homeowner’s association be liable for a dog bite in the neighborhood? They can be liable under certain circumstances. It is especially true when your dog bites someone in the common area of the homeowner’s community. Didn’t know this before? Read more to learn.
We may all love to live peacefully with our pets in a lively community. But there may be some communities that are not as welcoming with your pets. You see, some laws govern a certain homeowner association that may become a hindrance in your peaceful life.
So if you are planning on purchasing a unit or a house in a community owned by homeowners, you would probably need to educate yourself with the certain rules and regulations of a homeowners’ association that involves your furry friend’s stay in the area.
Rules With Pets Under Homeowner’s Bylaws
Condo or a homeowner’s bylaws, rules, and regulations are implemented to ensure its residents’ safety and enjoyable living inside the community. Therefore, these rules and regulations must be followed and respected by all. So, if you are a pet owner, what laws should you know to be responsible enough?
#1. Number of pets allowed
One of the laws that you should know about owning a pet is how many pets are you allowed to own? Of course, who would want to live in an overcrowded community? It is already crowded by people; how much more if the dogs add to this number also?
Understandably, the homeowners association would want to limit the number of pets you own, especially dogs. Things could get out of hand if you have multiple pets that may wander about the area. It will be an increase in dog traffic as well as the noise from barking.
Imagine yourself arriving from work early in the morning because you took a graveyard shift or worked overtime. When you have prepared yourself to sleep, then suddenly the dog on your right neighbor barked because of a squirrel, then the squirrel jumped over to your other neighbor’s tree, and their dogs barked.
What do you think will happen if that said community didn’t apply the rules of owning multiple dogs? Especially if other dogs saw that squirrel. What an endless strand of barking and noise. Can you sleep with all of them barking at the same time? I mean, who can?
#2. Pet breeds
There is some homeowner’s association that restricts certain breeds of dogs. And it means that some breeds are allowable to live in that said community. That detail is usually used to appease the owners of their preference. For example, a family is afraid of pit bulls, so the community forbids keeping pit bulls.
Such a situation can be considered an unfair rule that may forbid you specific breeds because of the emotional attachment. Needless to say that there are docile animals that are well-behaved that came from ill-mannered breeds. It’s not like all breeds, and pet size determines its behavior; it is upon the training the owner did.
The truth is, HOA’s decision to ban certain breeds will depend on the public opinion of related people and the legislation foreseeable by the law. All residents must abide by these limitations in breed and size since they are a part of the said community. The only exception is if the person has personal attachments to the breed is not allowed by the association.
#3. Service and emotional support animals
Dogs are considered a man’s best friend, so it is only natural for them to be service animals. Service animals are trained to support and assist certain tasks and help their disabled owners. Some of these animals also provide emotional and therapeutic support.
It is a part of some communities to allow therapeutic animals to live with their owners. Yes, it is part of the community that promotes the well-being of the residents, especially those who experience depression and mental or emotional stress.
According to the act, handicaps can be either physical or mental and limit a person’s daily activity like walking alone or exercising. Well, some people say they needed a comfort pet to be with them, and some use this excuse to get around the pet rule.
There is nothing wrong with keeping an animal to aid your lack of comfort, but it should not be used as an excuse to go around the pet rule. Remember, these rules and laws are implemented to sustain the residents’ peace and safety in the said community.
Some use this opportunity and even go beyond hiring an illegitimate prescription and doctor’s notes to support their claim of needing comfort pets. Since this happens in most cases, some HOA has started implementing a said pet law requirement.
So, what are you going to need to be excused from the said pet law? You will have to present a statement from a licensed professional. The statement must contain the findings that the patient has a mental or emotional disability that a comfort animal is necessary for their treatment and well-being.
#4. Application for pet restrictions
One of the association’s main responsibilities is to enforce and implement succeeding laws and regulations. The same responsibility applies in enforcing pet restrictions in the community. The HOA’s board has full rights to impose a fine of a warning letter to the unit owners that have failed to comply with the said rules.
But to make things legal, the HOA’s board’s actions must be inlined with their founding documents—the bylaws. The HOA also has the right to remove the said unit owner or the pet from their community if it fails to cooperate with the rules and regulations.
Although with the said rules, the HOA documents must also be consistent to avoid misunderstandings and cause their documents to backfire against them. Behind every law that the HOA documents are supporting has a purpose, and the board must ensure that they have this in mind upon enforcing the said laws.
Although the laws supported by the HOA’s documents are considerably consistent, some cases are still part of the exemption, and that is grandfathering. Grandfathering is applicable in some cases that the rules have been exempted before another rule is implemented.
For instance, your pet has a certain breed that was allowable at first, and you were exempted from the rule, then the HOA implemented another that made your breed banned. You are still exempted from the new law because your pet was exempted in the first place before the amendment.
Although you may be exempted from the new rule, the document may enforce a deadline or an expiration date to the exemption period. These situations may include the transfer of ownership of the unit or the pet owner no longer owns the unit. It will allow the HOA to remove the grandfather clause.
A Case Regarding Dog Bite In A Community
In some cases, can a homeowner’s association be liable for a dog bite in the neighborhood? Of course, yes, the said association may be liable if seen as negligent about implementing the rules and regulations in the community, especially if the incident happened within the jurisdictions of the said association.
Like what happened in the case of Barrwood Homeowners Assoc., Inc. v. Maser, 675 So. 2d 983 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1996), the court found the association negligent and brought upon the verdict of compensating the appellate of the injuries suffered.
A dog owned by a unit owner in the said association attacked the victim in a common area within the association’s reach of authority. The appellate suffered injuries and a dog bite that caused medical attention.
The court’s decision made the association liable as it has the same responsibilities as a landlord. The landlord or the association was deemed liable for the said incident if the following situations are to be proven true and was observed:
- If the landlord or the association knows the dog’s misbehavior and still kept the dog roaming around the common area and didn’t give the owner a restriction from the said area.
- If the landlord or the association is negligent with implementing the rules and regulations that govern the community within its scope of jurisdiction.
The association can only be dismissed from liability if it has no prior knowledge of the dog’s presence or had implemented the rule to prevent the situation from happening. With that said, in this case, both the association and the dog owners were held liable for what happened.
How To Prevent Biting Incidents
Any incidents concerning your dog and the damages that your dog creates are under your liability as a dog owner. So whatever your dog does, it is your responsibility to be the one to compensate for the damages your dog has caused. So, how would you prevent your dog from doing these unwanted liabilities?
Step #1. Know their tendencies
A great way to prevent your dog from biting is to know why they are doing so. It is a must to know your dog well before letting them roam in a common area or public. Some instances may trigger your dog to bite, so you should know what instances these are.
One of the main reasons that dogs bite is because they feel threatened. Dogs usually tend to bite if they feel danger is approaching them, and they will feel threatened. Especially when dogs get startled, their instinct tells them to bite and jump out of surprise.
There are some cases where passers-by tend to aggravate and threaten the dog; positioning themselves acting like they are about to throw something at the dog will trigger the dog to be aggressive. So the main action the dog will take is to defend themselves; the only problem is when the dogs are the ones to strike first.
Have you seen your dog pee on the sidewalks when you go on a walk? They do this as a part of their natural behavior to mark their territory. So some dogs tend to fight when they smell another dog within their territory. When a dog fight breaks, the passers-by tend to get bitten.
Imagine your brother or mother being abused by another person, and you tend to defend your relative. This is true for dogs also. They tend to protect their owners from the bad people that they see. They may bite someone, mistakenly seeing them try to attack you.
I remember my friend almost bitten by our dog because I was surprised by her at the back while covering my eyes. Buster ran towards her and got knocked down. She was almost got bitten by Buster; luckily, I was able to stop him from doing so. Since then, she didn’t do what she did to me back then.
Step #2. Training your dog
An effective way to prevent your dog from biting anyone is to train them. Training your dog will give you control over situations that may trigger their tendencies to bite someone. Best start their training at a young age, that way they will get used to following your orders.
Training your dog doesn’t only prevent them from biting anyone, but it could also strengthen your bond with each other. Playing is also an excellent way to train your dog. They don’t only get to enjoy, but you and your pet could have a fun exercise together.
Step #3. Socializing with pet
Another way of preventing your dog from biting someone is to help them socialize. Socializing will make their habit of biting someone goes down drastically. Let them meet people of all kinds that include children, disabled and old people under calm circumstances.
Step #4. Expose in various situations
Remember your pet dog may be startled in some situations? To prevent these situations, stimulate them and expose them to various situations that may startle them at a young age. These situations may include bicycles, trucks, big machines, loud noises, and more.
Step #5. Violence is never the solution
Do not kick, hit or throw at your dog, as this makes your dog more aggressive. Disciplining your dog using physical punishments is never an option. Instead, try positively enforcing them. Train them and give them treats when they have accomplished a task.
Step #6. Observe their behavior
As a responsible pet owner, it is a must to know your pet very well. If you may see any signs of aggression that may lead your dog to bite, stop it before things get out of hand. Removing your dog from the scene is a good way to prevent further damages that your dog may create.
Step #7. Keep them on-leash
Whenever you are going out for a walk, lie your dog on a short leash. This will give you control over the distance your dog may reach, thus preventing them from reaching somebody else. In some cases, this effectively prevents your dog from biting anyone, especially when you are in a public area.
Step #8. Vaccination
Your last resort is to keep updated with your dog’s vaccination dates. Ensuring that they are vaccinated in time will prevent them from transmitting Rabies if they have bitten someone. If you know that your dog has uncontrollable behavior that could lead to biting, put a muzzle on them if push comes to shove.
What If Your Dog Bites Someone?
So, what if it is your dog who bit someone? Do you know what you should do? The first thing is to act quickly and separate the dog from the victim. Assist the victim immediately and help the victim apply the first aid when getting bitten by a dog. If possible, seek medical attention at once.
While waiting for the help to arrive, do the following steps in keeping the bitten area free from infections:
Step #1. Wash the area
The first thing you must do is to wash the wound or the bitten area. It is to ensure that the wound is clean and away from dirt. Getting dirt into the wound could cause infections, and possible germs and bacteria may get inside and cause complications later.
Step #2. Slow the bleeding
Some people tend to increase the bleeding so that the dog’s saliva will not enter the victim’s body, but you should slow the bleeding down. Do this using a clean cloth. Cover the bleeding while waiting for help from the professionals.
Step #3. Apply over the counter creams
Not just any creams but apply an antibiotic cream to prevent infections. There may not be many available in your home but check on the drugstores or pharmacies in your area. Convenient stores have them too, so you could run for one there.
Step #4. Wrap the wound
After cleaning the wound, kindly wrap them with clean bandages. Keep them bandaged until you see the doctor. Keeping the wound that way will prevent dist from entering the wound.
Step #5. Watch for signs of infection
A dog bites you; it is normal to watch any signs of infection. You may never know if the dog has Rabies or not, so you should observe how your wound develops. Once you see any signs of infection, like they are getting swollen, seek medical attention immediately.
Interacting With A Dog Safely
If you are a resident who allows dogs in their community, your best prevention is to know how to safely interact with dogs. Knowing this, you will know and will be safe from any bite accidents that may occur in the future. So, how will you do these?
In cases of unfamiliar dogs, do not approach them. You don’t know their behavior if they are docile or aggressive. Ask the owner first if you are allowed to approach their dog; that way, they can warn you about the things you should and should not do in front of the dog.
Do not approach a busy dog
The key is to never disturb a dog, especially when the dog is eating, sleeping, or caring for its puppies. Dogs, in this case, tend to be more protective and defensive. They may try to bite you mistakenly, knowing that you would take their food or their pup.
You may feel pity over an injured dog, especially if you see it involved in an accident. You tend to either help or approach it immediately. Instead of approaching them, call for a professional that could help the dog give its medical attention.
Never leave the dog and child alone
You’ve known a dog to be docile and well-behaved, but this thing must not be overlooked when leaving the dog in charge of your young ones. Never leave a young child alone with the dog. The child may trigger tendencies to the dog that may make him bite the poor kid.
Cornered by a dog
If you come across a situation where a dog has cornered you, the first thing you must do is to remain calm. Stay still and avoid eye contact as much as possible. Do not run nor scream; instead, wait for the dog to stop paying attention to you while slowly backing away.
So, can a homeowner’s association be liable for a dog bite in the neighborhood? Suppose the association is proven to be negligent with its responsibilities; it should be mediators between the law and the residents of the said community. In that case, it is also a liability for the association.
But whatever the reasons may be, it is with the dog owner’s responsibility and liability whatever their dog has made. That includes their dog’s damages. Whether you are the dog owner, the victim, or just a resident of the community, you could always prevent getting bitten or your dog to bite someone.
With all of these in mind, you could always avoid all of these hassles from happening. To avoid these hassles, observe preventive measures. There is nothing wrong with being cautious. As the saying goes, “Prevention is better than cure.”