Environment, Energy and Natural Resources

Pets and Community Housing

Presented by the Animal Law Committee of the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Section of the D.C. Bar

Author: Angela S. Robinson, Esq.

Note: This article was designed to identify and explain the legal issues related to pet ownership for D.C. residents living in some form of multiunit housing such as condos, co-ops, rental units or other planned communities as a public service of the Animal Law Committee of the D.C. Bar.

It is not and shall not be considered legal advice. Consult an attorney if you have any legal questions regarding the legal issues discussed herein.

Table of Contents
I. Introduction

A. Pets in the 21st Century
B. The Common House Pet
C. Identifying the Issues

II. Relevant Pet Laws

A. Federal Regulations and Exemptions
B. District of Columbia Law

III. Pet Restrictions Within a Community

A. Developing Appropriate Pet Restrictions
1. HOA/Condo/Co-op Restrictions
2. Rental Housing Restrictions
3. Public Housing Restrictions
4. Pet Restrictions Generally

B. Special Considerations for Elderly and Disabled Tenants

1. Pets in Housing for the Elderly
2. Pets in Housing for the Disabled

C. Other Pet Restriction Considerations

1. Pet Waste
2. Reliance on Exceptions - Pros and Cons
3. Dog Runs
4. Animal Cruelty Awareness

IV. Enforcing Pet Restrictions

A. Sanctions

1. Warning Letters
2. Fines
3. Animal Control and Pet Removal
B. Formal Legal Measures

V. Rights and Liabilities Issues

A. Pet Owner Rights and Liability

1. Owner Rights
2. Pet Nuisance
3. Animal Hobby Permit
4. Dangerous Animals
5. Liability Insurance
6. Guide Dog Liability

B. Association and Landlord Liability

1. Avoiding Liability
2. Addressing Accommodation Requests

VI. Conclusion

A. Navigating the Social Transitions in Pet Ownership B. Sources of Additional Information

I. Introduction

A. Pets in the 21st Century
In the 21st Century more than ever, most people view their pets-or “companion animals”-as family members. Approximately 25% of D.C. households include at least one pet. Laws intended to control and protect animals generally still treat pets as private property, like a car or a television. Yet certain rights and liabilities are associated with pet ownership stemming from the special relationship between people and pets in today’s American society.

Pets are a responsibility and pet owners have certain duties. So pets bring into their owner’s lives not only companionship, but a variety of legal and procedural requirements that are often overlooked until a problem arises. That problem might be a new condominium board president who plans to enforce an ancient pet restriction in the Association By-Laws, a dog bite suit between neighbors, or an elderly tenant who insists that keeping a cat helps control his nervous condition. These issues can invoke a tremendous amount of emotion. In fact, pet policy is indicated as one of the most challenging issues confronting community association members.

In addition to the rising number of household pets, an increasing percentage of Americans now live in townhomes, condominiums, cooperatives or other multiunit housing. This trend is evident in D.C. These communities usually have some form of common rules that must be followed. In addition, approximately 33% of D.C. residents live in rental units or public housing and also are subject to use restrictions in their lease agreements. These rules and restrictions usually cover pets.

So, whether one owns or rents, abiding by common rules that impact the enjoyment of one’s personal space is a growing reality. And these rules also impact the pets that share that space.

B. The Common Household Pet

D.C. Code § 8-2201 defines a “common household pet” as a domesticated animal, such as a dog, cat, bird, rodent, fish, or turtle, that is traditionally kept in the home for pleasure rather than for commercial purposes. “Common household pet” does NOT include reptiles, other than turtles. More specifically, D.C. Code § 8-1801 provides that only the following animals may be kept as a household pet:

  • domestic dogs (excluding hybrids with wolves, coyotes, or jackals),
  • domestic cats (excluding hybrids with ocelots or margays),
  • domesticated rodents and rabbits,
  • captive-bred species of common cage birds,
  • nonpoisonous snakes,
  • fish,
  • turtles, and
  • racing pigeons (when kept in compliance with permit requirements).

Even the ownership of these animals is subject to additional restrictions, particularly in multifamily housing, as discussed below.

C. Identifying the Issues
It is important to understand the legal issues that can affect someone as a homeowner or a tenant with a pet-or as an association board member or landlord / housing manager dealing with pet issues.

Common pet concerns in community housing include:

  • Noise from, e.g., barking, yowling or chirping, or from movement in the premises;
  • Controlling biting, scratching, and other aggressive or threatening pet behavior;
  • Animal waste removal;
  • Human allergies or other sensitivities to animals;
  • Odors and indoor air quality;
  • Fleas/infestation;
  • Property damage;
  • Outdoor accommodations (e.g., dog runs) or tolerance of free-roaming cats;
  • Acceptance of non-traditional /exotic pets such as ferrets;
  • fear of zoonotic diseases (i.e., diseases such as rabies that can be transmitted between animals and humans);
  • “Dangerous” dogs; and
  • Animal cruelty awareness.

These issues should be considered when identifying the applicability of federal and local law, when formulating and enforcing pet restrictions, and when facing liability stemming from the above concerns.
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II. Relevant Pet Laws

A. Federal Regulations and Exemptions
Some might be surprised by the number of federal and local laws regarding pets and housing. Federal regulations relevant to pets within a community include:

  • The Fair Housing Act (FHA) § 804(f) (42 U.S.C. 3604) which exempts service animals for the disabled from pet rules, e.g., a building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog as a reasonable accommodation.
  • The National Affordable Housing Act (NAHA) § 1701r-1 (12 U.S.C. 1701r-1) which also protects pet ownership rights in assisted rental housing for the elderly or handicapped.
  • The U.S. Housing Act of 1937 (42 U.S.C. § 1436 et seq.) which regulates pet ownership in public housing.
  • The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) (42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq.).

Note that the FHA does NOT apply to either:

  1. buildings with four or fewer units in which the owner resides in one of the units; or
  2. private owners who do not own more than three single family houses, do not employ the services of a real estate broker or agent, AND do not produce any discriminatory publications, notices or mailings.

B. District of Columbia Law
District of Columbia regulations relevant to pets include:

  • D.C. Code Title 2, Chapter 14 - D.C. Human Rights Act
  • D.C. Code Title 7, Chapter 10 - Rights of Blind and Physically Disabled Persons
  • D.C. Code Title 8, Chapters 18 and 19 - Animal Control and Protection
  • D.C. Code Title 8, Chapter 22 - Pet Ownership Restriction in Assisted Housing
  • D.C. Code Title 22, Chapter 10 - Cruelty to Animals
  • D.C. Code Title 22, Chapter 13 - Disturbances of the Public Peace
  • D.C. Code Title 29, Chapter 9 - Cooperative Associations
  • D.C. Code Title 42, Chapter 19 - Condominiums
  • Title 14 D.C. Municipal Regulations, Chapter 3 - Landlord and Tenant
  • Title 24 D.C. Municipal Regulations, Chapter 9 - Animal Control

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III. Pet Restrictions Within a Community
Although the creation and enforcement of pet restrictions can be challenging, an absolute ban on pets may not be an available or realistic option for a community. Key to developing pet restrictions is recognizing that pet rules are really about regulating human behavior, not the pets.

A. Developing Appropriate Pet Restrictions
Associations and landlords are charged with enforcing rules to ensure that their communities are safe, clean and harmonious. Rules should be reasonable and appropriate to the community. Outdated provisions should be amended or repealed to fit the particular needs of each community. Also, restrictions should be fairly and consistently applied to avoid accusations of selective enforcement.

How much authority exists to regulate pets within a particular community will also influence restrictions. Authority will vary based on the jurisdiction, the type of property (a co-op versus a rented townhouse), and the provisions of the governing documents. Reasonable pet rules are enforceable. Moreover, pet rules developed with community input tend to be easier to enforce.

1. HOA/Condo/Co-op Restrictions
Homeowners associations (HOAs), condominium associations and cooperative associations have the authority to regulate pets within a property so long as they do not contradict government regulations or public policy. Vested expectations of owners are limited by the discretionary powers conferred to the association board or voting majority to make reasonable changes to the rules regarding use, and association rulemaking is presumed reasonable in most cases. Although some pet owners feel that “out of sight is out of mind,” it does not matter that the pet never leaves it’s owner’s individual unit or creates no nuisance to other tenants. Pet ownership is still considered a “use”.

Association rules are often more restrictive than D.C.’s regulations. Because they are private, voluntary contracts, they can prohibit acts that are otherwise legal. (Whether a pet was acquired before or after an association rule enactment will also determine its enforceability.)

Some jurisdictions have moved to reform or expand their association laws as more of their citizens find themselves having to live under association governance. Presently, D.C. does not have an HOA Act. It would not be surprising, however, if D.C. one day does provide more oversight of association governance.

2. Rental Housing Restrictions
While the liabilities and responsibilities of associations are similar to landlords, the members of the association own their homes and typically have greater rights than renters. Although a landlord may be temped to ban all pets from a rental property, choosing to instead develop an effective pets-allowed policy will increase the marketability of a rental property. Pets-allowed policies also reduce the number of pets abandoned by their owners. Landlord issues is one of the top five reasons pet owners give when surrendering their dogs or cats to animal shelters. Many of these animals are ultimately euthanized.

3. Public Housing Restrictions

The term “public housing” (sometimes referred to as “low-income housing”) has different meanings in different contexts. Public housing comes in many forms from single family houses to highrise apartments. The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) administers Federal aid to local housing authorities that manage the housing.

Section 8 housing, now the Housing Choice Voucher Program (HCVP) in D.C., differs from public housing, although both have similar eligibility and program administration requirements. Someone receiving public housing assistance lives in a public housing building, while someone receiving Section 8 assistance lives in a privately owned unit and receives vouchers for the rent. Both are still considered “federally-assisted” housing.

The U.S. Housing Act provides that those living in public or Section 8 housing may have one or more common household pets in their dwelling “if the resident maintains each pet responsibly and in accordance with applicable State and local public health, animal control, and animal anti-cruelty laws and regulations and with the policies established in the public housing agency plan.” According to this provision, reasonable requirements include:

  1. requiring payment of a nominal fee, a pet deposit, or both;
  2. limitations on the number of animals in a unit, based on unit size;
  3. prohibitions on:
    (A) types of animals that are classified as dangerous; and
    (B) individual animals, based on certain factors, including the size and weight of the animal; and
  4. restrictions or prohibitions based on size and type of building or project, or other relevant conditions.

These housing regulations recognize the value and benefit of animal companionship as well the importance of properly managing pet ownership in public housing.

4. Pet Restrictions Generally
There are a variety of restrictions an association or landlord also can legally include in a pet policy or lease. These include:

  • Requiring compliance with a pet policy.
  • Utilizing grandfather clauses to allow a pet that does not comply with new pet rules to remain with an occupant.
  • Requiring that pets be sterilized (to improve temperament), licensed, and vaccinated as appropriate.
  • Requiring that pets be kept in their units or on a hand-held leash when in common areas.
  • Limiting the number of pets in a particular unit.
  • Approving pet occupancy on a fair and consistent basis (simply limiting breed, size or number of pets allowed across the board will NOT accurately prevent pet problems that are really a function of human behavior or a particular pet).
  • Requiring pet liability insurance (n/a in public housing).
  • Requiring obedience training.
  • Providing a system for pet waste disposal.
  • Conducting periodic inspections of pet-occupied units to ensure compliance with pet rules.
  • Prohibiting animals not suited to life in the particular premises to be occupied.
  • rohibiting animals kept for breeding or other commercial purposes.
  • Prohibiting feeding or harboring of stray animals.

In addition, a landlord may require tenants to provide a supplemental security deposit or pet warranty, or to sign a pet addendum to their lease agreement. A landlord, however, may not:

  • Include provisions in a lease limiting or exempting the landlord from liability for damages or injuries caused by the landlord or the landlord’s employees’ / agents’ negligence on the premises, e.g., failing to have a dangerous animal removed from the premises.
  • Charge more than an amount equivalent to the first full month’s rent as a security deposit (but less in public housing - a $300 accumulated maximum as of 2005).

B. Special Considerations for Elderly and Disabled Tenants
“Public housing” as used above does NOT include federally assisted housing for the elderly or disabled, or health care facilities such as nursing homes or hospitals. Nevertheless, elderly and disabled tenants DO have a right to keep “common household pets” in federally-assisted rental housing.

1. Pets in Housing for the Elderly
In D.C., an elderly tenant is one that is age 60 years or older (versus 62 as in some states). An elderly tenant may be exempt from some of the building’s restrictions, but must comply with all federal and local laws regarding animals. A landlord may still prescribe reasonable pet rules and require the removal of pets which are a threat or nuisance to other tenants, or where animal cruelty is identified.

2. Pets in Housing for the Disabled
As with the elderly, a disabled tenant may be exempt from some of the building’s restrictions, but must comply with all federal and local laws regarding animals. A landlord may still prescribe reasonable pet rules and require the removal of pets in certain circumstances. The individual who uses the service animal may continue, however, to occupy the premises after timely removal of the objected to pet.

The FHA defines a person with a disability (or “handicap”) to include:

  1. individuals with a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities;
  2. individuals who are regarded as having such an impairment; and
  3. individuals with a record of such an impairment.

The term “physical or mental impairment” includes, but is not limited to, such diseases and conditions as orthopedic, visual, speech and hearing impairments, cerebral palsy, autism, epilepsy, muscular dystrophy, multiple sclerosis, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Human Immunodeficiency Virus infection, mental retardation, emotional illness, drug addiction (other than addiction caused by current, illegal use of a controlled substance), and even alcoholism. A disability in this situation may be a physical disability that requires a service animal, or a mental disability that creates an emotional need for animal companionship.

Even if a lease contains a no-pets clause, and even if the lease is not in the disabled individual’s name, a disabled Occupant may still have the right to keep a pet if:

  • The tenant can prove that the pet is necessary for health reasons (a doctor’s statement is sufficient proof of the need for a pet);
  • The landlord verbally agreed that the tenant could keep a pet, despite the lease terms; or
  • The landlord tries to enforce a no-pets rule after knowing about the pet and not objecting to it for a significant period of time (effectively waiving the landlord’s right to object to the pet).

Under the FHA, housing providers may not charge an extra fee, require an additional deposit or require special liability insurance before granting a reasonable accommodation. If, however, the disabled resident damages property through his/her accommodation, the provider may charge for the cost of the repair. Housing providers may also deny a request if it would impose an undue financial and administrative burden. Courts have held that providers may be required to incur some costs in granting a reasonable accommodation.

D.C. Code § 7-1006 also provides that blind persons and other physically disabled persons are entitled to “full and equal access” to rental housing without additional charge for assistive animals. The penalty for noncompliance is imprisonment for up to 90 days, or a fine of up to $300, or both.

Neither Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act nor the FHA require that assistive animals have a specific type of training. (A “guide dog” is dog that is specially trained to assist a blind or deaf person.) Section 227 of the Urban-Rural Recovery Act, which governs federally-assisted housing for the elderly and handicapped does state, however, that a landlord can insist that an assistive animal be specifically trained.

If a landlord refuses to allow someone to keep a pet under the above circumstances, the person may contact the District of Columbia office of the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) at 820 First Street, N.E., Suite 300, Washington, D.C. 20002, or 202-275-9200 (TTY: 202-275-0772) for assistance.

C. Other Pet Restriction Considerations
Restrictions on type, size, breed and number of pets may not be as important or effective as restricting pet and owner behavior. Governing documents may allow, for example, “one small dog or cat.” Yet one barking Terrier whose owner does not pooper scoop will be the source of much more distress than two docile St. Bernards, twelve securely caged mice, or a thousand guppies.

It is also important to make pet restrictions marketable to prospective tenants and buyers. If absolutely no pets are allowed in the community, an association or rental complex may be cutting the community out of half the market. People with pets—a growing population—want pet-friendly communities. But pet-friendly means that any existing pet restrictions are reasonably yet readily enforced so that the “good” pet owners are not subjected to the poor habits of the “bad” pet owners. A delicate balance between the desires of an individual resident and the best interests of the community as a whole must be achieved.

1. Pet Waste
Pet waste management must also be implemented by associations and landlords. Pet waste not only dirties green space and waterways, but also can transmit disease. D.C.’s pet waste or “pooper-scooper” law provides:

No person owning, keeping, or having custody of a dog, except a seeing eye dog, shall allow or permit the dog to defecate or urinate on public parking or any sidewalk or in any and each such person shall immediately remove dog excrement from any curb, gutter, alley or street . . . or . . . permit the dog’s excrement to remain on private property without the consent of the owner or occupant of the property.

If waste management becomes too cumbersome, communities might consider charging pet owners for pet waste removal.

2. Reliance on Exceptions - Pros and Cons
Exceptions to pet restrictions have the benefit of allowing for flexibility to accommodate special circumstances. Exceptions, however, come with a risk of creating an appearance of bias or favoritism, which could lead to ill will among residents or even larger problems. Any exception to a pet restriction should be in writing and include a right to revoke the exception. D.C. courts have held that such a revocation should only be made for cause and with a fair notice period.

Grandfather clauses may also be necessary to facilitate exceptions. They should be carefully drafted, however, to fairly protect existing residents without creating rights for new residents.

3. Dog Runs
To accommodate pet ownership, some communities consider adding dog parks or other designated pet areas to the premises. A dog park can provide a safe and legal area for pets to stretch their legs—making for a pet that is less stressed when back indoors, and helping to make the rest of the community “poop-free.” To be useful, however, such areas should meet certain requirements regarding size and layout, barriers, operating rules and restrictions, and sanitation.

In October 2005 the D.C. Council passed legislation to allow off-leash dog parks on District-owned parkland. The bill authorizes the mayor to issue rules and regulations for establishing the dog parks, where pets "under the verbal command of a responsible adult" may exercise off-leash. The parks would have to be fully enclosed by a fence and gate.

4. Animal Cruelty Awareness
In the process of enforcing pet restrictions, landlords and association board members often have the opportunity to monitor the conditions in which pets are kept on the premises. Any indication of pet mistreatment or other animal cruelty should not be tolerated and should be listed as grounds for eviction, fines or other penalties against the pet owner. Any neglect or cruelty observed should be reported to the Washington Humane Society or D.C. Animal Control. D.C. Code § 22-1001 provides that whoever knowingly inflicts unnecessary cruelty upon an animal, or unnecessarily fails to provide proper food, care, and shelter for their animal shall be punished by imprisonment in jail not exceeding 180 days, or by fine not exceeding $250, or by both.

If the health or safety of a pet is threatened by the death or incapacity of an owner/tenant, the association or landlord should first attempt to reach the emergency contacts provided. If no contacts can be reached, Animal Control should be called to care for or remove the pet.

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IV. Enforcing Pet Restrictions
When faced with a pet rule violation, several options exist. The association or landlord may start with sanctions as provided in the governing documents, such as a warning letter or a fine. When these options fail, more aggressive measures may be necessary, such as pet removal or legal action.

Each enforcement measure should be executed according to a pre-established enforcement policy. Lax or sloppy enforcement habits can prevent an association or landlord from effectively regulating pets and their owners. There should be no delay in pointing out violations to offenders. Otherwise, the offender will argue that management is estopped from enforcing the rules. The counter argument is, of course, that the resident had notice of the rules because she was provided with the written documents when she first moved).

The D.C. Court of Appeals has advised that in cases involving waivers of no-pet rules, it will consider “not only whether the landlord has subsequently accepted rent, but also whether he has acquiesced in the pet’s presence, as reflected by his direct or indirect knowledge and his inaction over a significant period of time.”

A. Sanctions

1. Warning Letters
Warning letters are an effective way to resolve noncompliance and give residents an opportunity to cure the rule violation. A landlord may continue, however, to accept rent for the period during which the notice was running without waiving the breach, extending the tenancy, or losing its right to sue.

2. Fines
D.C. Code § 42-1903 gives condominium associations the power to fine residents in violation of its reasonable rules. The association might also withhold certain privileges such as pool use. Fining, however, is only as effective as the association’s ability to collect.

3. Animal Control and Pet Removal
An association or landlord may seek the assistance of D.C. Animal Control to remove a pet on the premises in violation of the rules. D.C. Animal Control is also a resource for:

  • enforcement of leash laws, ordinances, regulations, and statutes;
  • control of unrestrained and free-roaming animals;
  • investigation of animal bite-related incidents;
  • administration of rabies quarantine programs after an animal bite; and
  • educational outreach within the community regarding responsible pet ownership.

B. Formal Legal Measures
An association or landlord might also rely on laws regulating health and safety, animal cruelty, animal control, and even disturbance of the peace to involve the police or other government agencies in its pet regulation efforts. This involvement can lead to the imposition of fines or injunctions, jail sentences, and even impoundment or destruction of the animal involved. Of course, the extent of this intervention will depend upon how involved the authorities are in any given case.

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V. Rights and Liability Issues
Pets offer great companionship, but they also can be a liability. Dog bites in particular are a serious public health/safety problem. D.C. follows the doctrine of contributory negligence which prevents a victim from receiving compensation if her conduct was even an insignificant cause of an accident. Nevertheless where a dog bite victim IS found completely blameless, a pet owner or handler will be legally responsible for an animal attack. D.C. Code Section 8-1808 provides that “[n]o person who has control or custody of a dog shall, direct, encourage, cause, allow or otherwise aid or assist that dog to threaten, charge, bite, or attack a person or other animal.” The violation of this statute results in a presumption of negligence on the part of the dog owner (i.e., negligence per se).

As in other situations, special care must be directed towards children and senior citizens. Vulnerability to animal attacks can be a special concern in housing for the elderly, for example. As people age, they become more susceptible to injury and disease, sensory perception decreases, and diminished motor skills mean that the elderly are less able to physically protect themselves or escape. And children are the most common victims of serious dog bites.

A. Pet Owner Rights and Liabilities
A pet owner should never live in knowing (or innocent) violation of the rules. Such could result in unfortunate consequences, causing an owner to lose her pet, to have to move on short notice, or to pay substantial fines or other financial penalties.

1. Owner Rights
The first step in making life easier for pets and their owners is living in animal-friendly housing. Also pet owners should:

  • Know the applicable restrictions before leasing or buying - i.e., read the lease agreement, or request a copy of the most recent association Declarations, By-Laws, Rules & Responsibilities, and other governing documents as applicable.
  • Provide information about a pet to support its acceptability as a tenant.
  • Get any exception to the pet rules in writing.
  • Know the “cure” period for a rules violation.
  • Be considerate pet owners by, e.g., exercising adequate control over pets.
  • Follow the rules.
  • Understand their pet’s temperament so that they can predict and control its behavior.
  • When a fair housing violation occurs, report it, being mindful of the statute of limitations (i.e., the amount of time you have to file a complaint with the appropriate agency or court).

2. Pet Nuisance
In addition to activities in common areas, pet activities in individual units also can create a “private nuisance” interfering with a neighbor’s use and enjoyment of her home. Sufficiently annoying barking or offensive odors, for example, can be an actionable nuisance.

Moreover, D.C. Code § 8-1808 prohibits animals from roaming “at large”-also a nuisance. An “animal at large” is any animal found off the premises of its owner and neither leashed nor otherwise under the immediate control of a person capable of physically restraining it.

3. D.C. Animal Hobby Permit
If a resident has several pets, she may need to obtain an Animal Hobby permit. Certain animals such as pigeons, fowl, and bees may only be kept with an Animal Hobby permit, and only under certain circumstances. D.C. Code § 8-1809 specifically provides that no one may own or keep 5 or more mammals, larger than a guinea pig and over the age of 4 months, without obtaining an animal hobby permit (not applicable to a licensed pet shop, licensed veterinary hospital, circus or traveling exhibition). A holder of an animal hobby permit shall not permit objectionable odors or noises to disturb the comfort or quiet of any neighborhood. A holder of an animal hobby permit shall not permit an animal to commit a nuisance on public space or property owned by others.

4. Dangerous Animals
D.C. Code § 8-1808 provides that no person who has control or custody of a dog shall direct, encourage, cause, allow or otherwise aid or assist that dog to threaten, charge, bite, or attack a person or other animal. A person, however, may keep a properly trained dog on private property to defend it and its occupants from intruders, and may order a dog to defend a person under attack.

For safety and to avoid liability, associations and landlords should ensure that dangerous animals are not kept on the premises. D.C. Code § 8-1901 defines a “dangerous dog” as any dog other than one used in law enforcement that:

  • Has bitten or attacked a person or domestic animal without provocation; or
  • In a menacing manner, approaches without provocation any person or domestic animal as if to attack, or has demonstrated a propensity to attack without provocation or otherwise to endanger the safety of human beings or domestic animals.

“Dangerous” classifications are not always tied to specific breeds of dogs because such a classification does not accurately identify individual dogs that pose a potential risk to the community—e.g., intact males or new mothers are more likely to bite than other dogs. Besides, responsible pet ownership is necessary for all breeds.

In D.C., all dangerous dogs must be registered pursuant to D.C. Code § 8-1900. Dangerous dog registration requirements include the written permission of the property owner where the dog will be kept, and that the owner secure a minimum of $50,000 in pet liability insurance. When outside the home, a dangerous dog must me muzzled, restrained on a short and substantial leash, and under the control of a responsible person.

D.C. Code § 8-1812 also provides that if a dog injures a person wile at large, lack of knowledge of the dog’s vicious propensity standing alone shall not absolve the owner from a finding of negligence.

5. Liability Insurance
A pet owner should ensure that her homeowner’s or renter’s insurance policy covers pet liability. If not, supplemental pet liability insurance should be obtained. This is an important step, particularly for dog owners, as one-third of all liability claims against homeowners stem from dog bites.

Liability insurance options should be carefully researched. Coverage should include harm done by a pet when off the property as well as when at home. Some insurance companies will not insure certain dog breeds—especially breeds that have a track record of attacking or harming humans such as Rottweilers and Great Danes. In deciding whether to insure a homeowner with a “dangerous dog,” many companies look for evidence that homeowners are taking steps to prevent bites by having their dogs spayed or neutered and by keeping them indoors or on leashes and under supervision when outdoors. In addition, many insurance companies do not insure exotic animals typically found in the wild. It also may be difficult to obtain coverage for a pet that has already attached someone.

Where a pet owner is having trouble finding insurance, she should ask the prospective insurer if she can get an exclusion for the pet. In such a case, the insurance company would not be responsible for covering liability claims caused by the animal. Attending obedience school also may help a pet owner’s case.

If the company is unwilling to work the pet owner, the decision may be appealed with the D.C. Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking (202-727-8000).

6. Guide Dog Liability
As with any pet owner, those with guide dogs are liable for any damages to the premises by the dog.

B. Association and Landlord Liability

1. Avoiding Liability
Generally, an association or landlord may be liable for permitting dangerous dogs to remain in common areas. Associations and landlords have a fiduciary duty to manage the common areas, including making them safe and warning of any known dangerous conditions. D.C. case law addressing such liabilities and responsibilities is limited. But D.C. courts have stated that a landlord might be liable if he knows that a tenant keeps a dog that bites, provided that the landlord has the legal power to evict the tenant. Hence, the prudent association or landlord should enact reasonable restrictions on an owner’s ability to house vicious and potentially dangerous animals while being prepared for resistance from owners who view such as an infringement on their personal liberties.

To avoid liability, associations and landlords should:

  • Duly enact and distribute pet rules.
  • Properly notify pet owners of rule violations.
  • Address residents’ complaints promptly.
  • Promote dog bite prevention.
  • Provide a time to cure pet violations.
  • Require pet liability insurance (illegal in some states).
  • Maintain a record of the pets living on the premises, including photos of each animal.
  • Track the behavior of any menacing or potentially dangerous pets, such as a cat known for hissing at neighbors from an open window.
  • Obtain insurance that protects against claims resulting from the actions of residents’ pets.
  • Be prepared to take action. When a dog bite or other animal-related injury occurs on the premises, ensure that an investigation is completed and well-documented.
  • Require a minimum amount of animal training (applicable to federally assisted housing for the elderly and disabled).
  • Require that dogs and cats be vaccinated for rabies, as required by D.C. Code § 8-1803.
    · Require that dogs be licensed.
  • Set sanitary standards. Increasing concerns about mold, for example, may be exacerbated by the presence of animals.
  • Identify designated pet / no pet areas on the premises.

In an action brought against a resident in violation of a pet restriction, the association or landlord should obtain the following information:

  • Date on which pet owner purchased or leased the unit
  • Pet information, including:
    a. Pet’s name
    b. Pet’s species, breed, size, and coloring/marking
    c. Pet’s age
    d. Date on which owner acquired pet
    e. Pet’s education - obedience training or any special training, such as for security or assistance of handicapped persons.
  • Notice of pet restriction (usually the lease date or record notice from receipt of condominium declaration and bylaws).
  • Whether restriction was in force when pet owner purchased or leased the unit.
  • Owner’s reliance on a provision in documents existing before effective date of restriction.
  • Complaints from other unit owners or tenants regarding the violation.

2. Addressing Accommodation Requests
A resident may file an FHA complaint if a landlord or association unfairly denies a pet accommodation request by a disabled tenant. A standard procedure should be in place for processing such requests to avoid misunderstandings regarding the nature of the request, and to provide records showing that the requests received proper consideration. In response to a request for a reasonable accommodation, a landlord or association may request reliable disability-related information that:

(1) is necessary to verify that the person meets the FHA definition of disability (i.e., has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities),
(2) describes the needed accommodation, and
(3) shows the relationship between the person’s disability and the need for the requested accommodation.

Lastly, associations and landlords have a legal obligation to ensure that disabled residents are not harassed because of their assistive animal. Therefore, other residents should be informed of the reason for any special accommodations made.

Return to Table of Contents

VI. Conclusion

A. Navigating the Social Transitions in Pet Ownership
Laws and community policies may lag behind the status of pets in our society. But the trend is towards a more liberal and thorough treatment of pets as part of human lives—particularly in urban areas like the District of Columbia. So while the status of animals in our legal system is in transition, communities will need to rely on compromise and forward planning to see them through these changes.

B. Sources of Additional Information
For more information on the above topics, consult:

D.C. Case Law

  • Carrington v. Purkhiser, 466 A.2d 1243 (D.C. App. 1983) (discussing whether dogs’ “incessant barking and unpleasant smell” constituted a private nuisance).
  • Chadbourne v. Kappaz, 779 A.2d 293 (D.C. App. 2001) (discussing D.C. leash law).
  • Douglas v. Kriegsfeld Corp., 849 A.2d 951 (D.C. App. May 13, 2004) (providing a recent overview of the rights of the disabled under the FHA and D.C. Human Rights Act), petition for rehearing en banc granted, 855 A.2d 1126 (D.C. App. Aug. 6, 2004).
  • Mee v. Marlyn Apartment Co., 31 A.2d 864, 865 (M.C. App. D.C. 1942) (where indicated, a waiver to a no-pet provision is revocable).
  • Shannon & Luchs Co. v. Tindal, 415 A.2d 825 (D.C. App. 1980) (discussing waiver of no-pet clauses).

National Organizations

Local Organizations

  • D.C. Animal Shelter/Department of Health - Animal Control, 1201 New York Avenue, NE, Washington, DC 20002 (202-576-6664 (24 hours)).
  • Washington Humane Society (WHS) Animal Shelter, 7319 Georgia Avenue, NW, Washington, D.C. 20012 (202-BE-HUMANE/202-234-8626 (24 hours)), or www.washhumane.org.
  • Washington Animal Rescue League (WARL), 71 Oglethorpe Street, NW Washington, D.C. 20011 (Shelter: 202-726-2556, Medical Center: 202-726-CARE (2273)), www.warl.org.
  • D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development, 801 North Capital Street, NE, Suite 600, Washington, D.C. 20002 (202-442-7200), or www.dhcd.dc.gov.
  • D.C. Housing Authority (DCHA), 1133 North Capitol Street, NE, Washington, D.C. 20002 (202) 535-1000, or www.dchousing.org.
  • D.C. Office of Human Rights (OHR), 441 4th Street, NW, Suite 570N, Washington, D.C. 20001 (202-727-4559), or www.ohr.dc.gov.
  • The George Washington University Law School Animal Welfare Project.

Other Resources

  • Debra H. Lewin, GAP2 Report #28 - Pet Policies: How to Draft and Enforce Rules That Sit, Stay, and Heel (Christopher Durso, Ed., 2001).
  • Doris Day Animal League & Massachusetts Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, Best Friends for Life: Humane Housing for Animals and People (Lisa Gallo et al, eds. 1996).
  • Renting With Pets: The Online Resource for Rental Managers and Pet Owners, http://www.rentwithpets.org (2004).
  • Joint Statement of the Department of HUD and DOJ, Reasonable Accommodations Under the Fair Housing Act (May 17, 2004).
  • U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development, Multifamily Asset Management and Project Servicing, HUD Handbook 4350.1, Rev. 1, Chg-9 (January 23, 1996).
  • U.S. Department of Justice - Civil Rights Division, A Guide to Disability Rights Law (August 2004).
  • George Washington University Law School, A Report on Animal Welfare in the District of Columbia (2005).
  • American Kennel Club, Establishing a Dog Park in Your Community (July 2004).

Written and developed by Angela S. Robinson, Esq., Washington, D.C., for the Animal Law Committee of the District of Columbia Bar.
© Copyright 2005.