CATHERINE M. MATTHEWS (R), GRI
Broker-In Charge, Callahan Realty, Ltd.
Past President, Oahu Chapter
National Association of Residential Property Managers
Q. I want to buy a condominium to rent out right now but would like to live in it in the future. I have a dog and cannot imagine my life without one. I have heard about condominiums changing their policy about being “pet friendly” and people that have actually purchased in the building based on the assurance that they would be able to legally keep a pet. Is being “pet friendly” a contractual commitment to a buyer that cannot be violated down the road or can it be rescinded by a new board of directors or building owner? What kind of documentation should we require from both the seller of the unit and the condominium association’s Board of Directors that will protect our right to have dogs in the apartment in perpetuity?
A. There are many positives about condominium living. However, one of the drawbacks is that rules can change and every owner may not like or agree with the changes but are legally bound to them nonetheless. There are several governing documents of a condominium association: the Condominium Property Regime (CPR), the By-Laws, and the House Rules. Very basically, the CPR describes the property as a whole. It also describes the units, their size, parking, common elements and limited common elements. The By-Laws are more the governing documents; they lay out the rights and responsibilities of the owners, the association and the Board of Directors. The By-Laws is where you find if you have the right to keep a pet on the property. The House Rules take the By-Laws and put them into understandable, enforceable rules to create harmonious living.
The Board of Directors has the authority to change the House Rules. The Board of Directors does not have the authority to change the By-Laws and the CPR without a vote of the membership as a whole. The percentage amount of the membership it takes to amend a By-Law varies based on the By-Laws themselves and also the State Laws 514A and 514B that govern condominiums. The By-laws and House Rules should not conflict; however, if the By-Laws state, for example, “an owner may keep a reasonable number of pets,” the Board of Directors would have the ability to make a House Rule that defines “reasonable number” and even place a size limitation on a pet (the exception would be limitations of a service animal, but they are not legally defined as pets).
If an owner or resident had a pet that is registered properly with the management previous to the rule change, that pet would normally be “grandfathered” in. So if the rule changed to place a limit of 25 pounds on any dog and you have a properly registered 60 pound dog, you could keep your 60 pound dog, but may not be able to get another 60 pound dog, even should your dog die. You would almost certainly be bound to the 25 pound rule.
There is no document that you can obtain from a seller or anyone else that will absolutely guarantee your ability to have a pet in perpetuity. If a vote of the membership (be it 50%, 67%, or 75% depending on your Condominium) agrees to amend the By-Laws, stating no pets are allowed, then that would be the new rule. Condominiums are subject to change and every owner, whether he or she agrees or not, is legally bound to adhere to all the governing documents and any changes that may occur during ownership. A condominium association is run by a volunteer group of owners which makes up the Board of Directors; one of the best ways to ensure that your association reflects the values and desires of the majority of owners is to join the Board or a committee and volunteer your time to represent yourself and your neighbors.