A brief note of thanks to the Record-Eagle for accepting me as a new columnist. This column will feature a Q&A format and will focus on community association life. If you have a question about condo or subdivision living, please send it to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact me at 800-470-4433.
Q: A few of the residents at our condominium association had noticed increased barking from a dog in one of the units. Attempts to knock at the door and check on things or otherwise contact the owner were unsuccessful, and nobody seemed to be coming to take care of the dog. A family member eventually came to help the dog and told us that the owner was in a serious accident and was incapacitated. However, this got our Board of Directors thinking — this could have turned out much worse, so how do we protect animals in these situations?
A: Community Associations should certainly take reasonable measures to reduce the risk that pets will face these kinds of situations. I myself share a condo with Sofia and Joyleih, our firm’s “Legal Beagles,” and they love condominium living.
One thing a community association board of directors should not do is require or even just allow owners to provide copies of unit keys to the board or management. This idea arises from time to time with boards of directors, but the association and individuals with access would be taking on an extremely high amount of risk by doing so. For example, after a burglary, an owner may accuse someone with access to their key. Or someone may seek to hold the association responsible for not putting out a fire in the unit or not addressing some other emergency. What happens if keys are lost or stolen? This is a headache that a board of directors does not need.
So, what makes sense instead? When obtaining resident information on a form, be sure to include a space for them to indicate emergency contact information. If you would have had that information available, your board of directors likely could have reached out to a family member immediately once the concern was identified.
Also, many community association governing documents will contain provisions allowing the association to gain entry into units in order to address emergencies. However, except for circumstances in which immediate action is obviously required, this should never be done without first consulting with your experienced community association attorney. An attorney may advise to first obtain a court order so that a judge can independently confirm that entry should be granted. This will protect the association against claims that it acted too quickly and caused unnecessary damage to the door, lock, frame, etc.
It may also make sense to coordinate with the local police department and an animal rescue organization as necessary. Get help from as many professionals as you can, because that will protect your association down the road.