A few years ago outdoor cats were allowed, but they changed the rule. No one informed me of this rule before I bought the unit, in fact, the building boasted being "pet friendly" in their ad. Now I am being imposed with $50 fines because "someone saw my cat outside." They have no proof or evidence that anyone actually saw my cat outside. Every now and then he gets out during the day and there is nothing I can do about it. I have tried to reason with the board to allow me to have him outside only at night, but they refuse, although there are numerous other cats roaming the property, who myself and my neighbors have seen. I don't even see anything in the rules that says that they are allowed to impose fines for this! What should I do?
—Need Help in Hoboken
“The proprietary lease, bylaws, and house rules (governing documents) provide boards with a certain amount of authority relating to the governance of the association. Boards have a duty to uphold rules and regulations to protect the health, safety and welfare of its residents of the association. It is common for associations to prohibit pets of any kind, because pets can produce frequent loud noises and can cause damage to common elements, e.g., grass, common hallways, etc.
“Boards are compelled to comply with the governing documents when implementing rules and regulations or amendments to its documents. Some governing documents require a vote of the membership to implement new rules and regulations, while other governing documents allow just the board to vote on the new rules and regulations it seeks to implement. A vote of the membership is almost always required for amendments to bylaws. For example, if the bylaws allowed residents to have pets, it is likely that the bylaws would require a vote of the membership to amend the bylaws to prohibit pets.
“Fines are often imposed for violations of the governing documents. We advise our associations to make sure that there is proper documentation of the violation, e.g., photographs or a complaint signed by a witness prior to imposing fines. Without sufficient evidence to prove the violation, associations are unlikely to be able to enforce the violation and/or collection of the resulting fine.
“It is important to review all of your association’s governing documents to determine: (1) whether the association’s board had the authority to prohibit pets; (2) whether the association has the authority to implement fines for violations; and (3) whether the association has either a signed complaint from a witness or a picture of your outdoor cat to support the imposition of the fine. If there is such proof and authority, as a member of the co-op, you are obligated to comply and find a way to restrain your cat or risk fines and legal action.”