Condo Poop Patrol–How do you Control Messy Pets in Condos, Co-Ops and HOAs?

So let’s admit to begin with that it’s very hard to be taken seriously when you’re talking about poop–but it’s a serious issue for millions of people around the country who live in Shared Ownership Communities and like to live a dog-doody free lifestyle.  This is not going to be a blog about banning pets from condos.  I’m a dog owner, I love pets, and while I respect the right of those who wish to live petless to do so, I don’t expect it to be the norm.  But what I don’t like is going down to my community’s dog-walking area and finding it layered in other dog’s excrement.  Many who live in pet-friendly condos have the same problem; and in HOAs, the problem expands to people’s front lawns.  And lest you assume that this issue is trivial, note that a lot of neighbor battles, even violent ones, can be traced back to disagreements over picking up poop.

First of all, for the small percentage of people who fail to understand why dog poop is an issue, or think that it’s too trivial to deal with, dog poop is not nice stuff.  It attracts scavengers, it can contain worms, it smells bad and it’s a terrible mess to get out of your shoes, your children or, worse, your dog’s fur (how many of us have seen our dogs rolling happily in the grass, only to find that they decided to coat themselves with another dog’s poop?  It’s gross, but it happens all the time).

To start, nearly every condominium, co-op or HOA that allows pets will have some kind of clause in their documents that requires owners to clean up after them.  If by some chance your community doesn’t have a rule that says that owners must pick up after their dogs, consider your nuisance rule as a possible tool to deal with owners who cannot be bothered to bend.  However, it would be far more effective and clear for your board or membership to simply pass a new rule that requires pet owners to pick up after their animals.  Honestly, I can’t think of a single responsible pet owner who would disagree with such a rule (though, as you’ll see below, such people clearly exist).

However, having a rule in place is only a tiny fraction of the enforcement conundrum, as a large portion of people will simply ignore the rule.  I’m frankly not sure why this is–I would assume that everyone prefers walking their dog in an area without crap on the ground, but apparently that’s not a universal opinion.  Some people are physically unable to pick up after their pets, so choose not to; some people honestly believe that it’s not their responsibility; some are house workers who simply don’t care enough about the community to comply; some are just lazy and don’t like to bend over.  Whatever the reason, it’s a disgusting problem that exists in every single pet-friendly SOC in one way or another, so managing the problem is a paramount, universal issue that’s going to come down to enforcement.  Here, then, are some tools that you can use to combat the poop problem.  First you have to catch the violator, then you need to decide on an appropriate punishment.

1) Registration/Tags:  The first problem you need to deal with is determining which dog owners are the common violators, and that requires knowing which dogs are allowed to be on your property, and which ones are not.  It’s a minor inconvenience to ask owners to register their pets with the association office.  Ask for a photo of the pet, and place it on a page with the pets breed, color, and contact information for the owners.  You may also want to consider requiring owners to put a visible neighborhood tag on the dog’s collar (and we’ll get to why in a moment).  Now, some people will certainly resist the requirement to register their pets.  Some are probably violating association rules regarding number or type of pets (because every single community has SOMEONE violating those rules), some don’t feel it’s anyone’s business what types of pets they have, and some are simply to “busy” to take the time to register their pets.  But be persistent.  Registration of pets is one of the first lines of defense against disrespectful owners (and yes, owners who refuse to pick up after their dogs are disrespectful–disrespectful to other owners and to their neighborhood.  There’s just no two ways about it.)

2)  Enforcement:  This is where the real trick comes into play–how do you catch people not doing something?  Before anything, start with the obvious options.  Place a “reminder” flyer in a prominent place, asking residents to pick up after their pets.  Send out an email or letter if appropriate, as well.  Explain in the flyer or letter the negatives of dog poo (and yes, some people do need to be informed that there are negatives).  See if making owners more aware of the problem can help improve compliance.  Fair warning though–it rarely does.

After that, if you have security in your property (especially if it’s a condo) they should be instructed that people who they witness not picking up after their pets should be stopped, asked to pick up, and if they refuse, their name and unit number should be recorded (or, if they’re trespassers, they police should be called).  Many security guards will ignore an issue like this, thinking it’s outside of their purview.  But condo and HOA security guards are not simply there for “security”, they also need to be able to identify basic rules violations as well.  So if your community is having a repeated problem, make sure that management is specifically directing security to keep an eye out for violators.  This, by the way, is where dog tags become useful.  It enables a security guard, at a glance, to make sure the dog is authorized to be on the property, and if needed to check the unit number for future enforcement.  Second, you may want to add cameras to the typical dog-walking areas.  These cameras don’t need to be monitored 24/7, but they should have some recording capacity (a few days at least) so that if an acute problem begins to develop they can be reviewed for compliance.  You will often find that the same few people are constantly breaking the rule, over and over, and may not stop until there are consequences.  If you don’t have cameras or security, consider getting together all the responsible dog owners and asking everyone to keep an eye out for poop pick-up violators.  A “neighborhood watch” type of arrangement may be your only defense against the mess.

And for the really technologically advanced, here’s a new tool in the aresenal.  It was recently reported that a condo in Massachusetts is considering DNA testing dog poop to figure out whose dog left the mess.  Apparently, we are seeing the genesis of a new TV hit–CSI: Dalmatian.  You can read more about this story here:  http://news.discovery.com/animals/pet-dna-calls-out-poop-scoop-offenders.html

3)  Punishment:  It seems silly to be talking about punishing people who won’t pick up after their pets–you’d assume that all people would be willing to comply with this simple, neighborly step of pet ownership.  Unfortunately, in the real world that’s often not the case.  Even after reminding people to pick up after their dogs, even after catching them in the act, a number of people will simply not pick up poop, thinking that the job is beneath them or that it’s not their responsibility.  So your association may have to resort to punishing them to get the point across.  There are three main threats that can be used against owners:

Embarrassment:  For some reason, condos and HOAs have no problem using embarrassment as a tool against non-paying owners (publishing a list of delinquents for everyone to view), but embarrassing people about violating other rules is often viewed as unreasonable.  That said, if you want to try it, you can consider a simple policy of posting flyers in the mailroom, stating something like “please remind Mrs. Jones to pick up after her dog, Champs.”  While I’ve never tried this in my own community, my gut feeling is that it’s far more effective to call people out on a simple, easily correctable issue, like picking up dog poop, than convincing them to pay their maintenance.

Fines:  The main enforcement tool available to SOCs is fining owners for rules violations.  A typical fine is $100 per occurrence.  But what are you going to do when they don’t pay the fine?  Are you going to put a lien on their property for a dog poop fine, or even foreclose on the unit?  Most states will not let an association foreclose for non-payment of a fine, so this often becomes a toothless threat, as the fined owner knows there are no consequences for non-payment.  Still, some owners will be willing to pay fines, and the threat of fines do have at least some deterrent effect.  And even if the fine is never applied, the simple act of bringing an owner in front of the grievance committee may be enough to convince them to pick up after their animal.

Doggie Exile:  This is certainly the most extreme remedy, but for repeat offenders you may have no choice.  Most pet-friendly documents have a provision that allows the association to expel the dog from the community if it becomes a constant nuisance (usually due to violent behavior or constant noise and barking).  Still, a board could easily argue that a pet who is never picked up after is a nuisance, and may not live in the neighborhood.  Now, pretty much any pet owner will respond to a threat to remove their dog, so this enforcement tactic is perhaps the most ultimately convincing.  Still, it should only be used in the most severe of recidivist cases, against those people for whom threat of embarrassment or fines have no effect.

Dog poop may be a silly topic, but it is a serious problem for a lot of communities, especially neighborhoods with a large cultural mix (not all nationalities or cultures are used to picking up after their animals).  Unfortunately, the only real way to deal with the problem is the way you deal with any other rules violation–make sure a clear rule is in place, enforce the rule, and punish accordingly.  Hopefully your association can convince the majority of your neighbors to keep dog walking areas neat and clean, because it’s never fun to deal with dog poop–especially from someone else’s dog.

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