Homeowners’ Association is not required to protect residents from dogs

August 21, 2018
Aaron S. Marines

Lots of Association board members worry whether the Association is required to enact rules to control dangerous dogs.  In McMahon v. Pleasant Valley West Association, the Commonwealth Court ruled that an Association does not have a duty to force a unit owner to maintain, control or confine their dogs on the dog owner’s property.  The Association also does not have a duty to prevent dogs from harming other unit owners.  Because they have no duty to control the dog, or to protect unit owners from harm caused by the dog, the Association was not responsible for injuries to the unit owner.  The Court noted that there was no “special relationship” between the Association and the dog owner or the victim of the dog attack.  The Court noted that the Association did not act to “provide any additional protections against an attack by the … dogs over and above the protections provided in the dog law….”

This raises an interesting question.  What if the Association had established rules and regulations to deal with a dangerous dog?   Some Associations I work with have enacted rules and regulations that would require dogs that have bitten people to be leashed, muzzled or totally confined to their own lot.  If the Association were to routinely ignore that rule, the outcome could be different.  If the Association goes through the process of making a dog owner muzzle its dog, it may establish this “special relationship” that the Court is looking for.  In that case, if the Association fails to reasonably enforce that rule, it might be liable for negligence.

This does not mean that the Association should not make rules and regulations concerning dogs.  It only means that the Association needs to follow through on the rules that it creates.  I am not suggesting that a board member keep guard outside of the house of a dog that is supposed to be muzzled.  But if this is the Association’s rule, it has to take reasonable efforts to follow through.  That may mean assessing fines against the unit owner when the dog violates these rules.  It could mean following through to contact the dog warden in some instances.  If people in the community are relying on the Association to follow its rules, then the Association may create an extra duty of care towards the rest of the neighborhood.

Aaron Marines is an attorney at Russell, Krafft & Gruber, LLP, in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He received his law degree from Widener University and practices in a variety of areas including Commercial Real EstateLand Use, Land Planning and Zoning matters. Aaron provides guidance and counsel to many homeowner and condominium associations on the unique situations that apply to associations.