Q&A: In Violation of the Rules

Q Our rules and regulations state that owners may not have more than 2 pets, one of which may be a dog. One of the unit owners who also happens to be a board member keeps 4 dogs in her unit as pets. Since she is a board member, the board will not take action against her. Not only is this unfair, it is against the rules. What can we do?

—Rulebreaker in Reading

A “There are no Condominium Police to whom to report this rule violation. Your two general options are limited to (i) working it out within your condominium, or (ii) filing an action in court, assuming you have a cognizable claim and you meet filing prerequisites,” explains Adam P. Whitney, Esq., a partner at the law firm of Morisi & Oatway, P.C in Quincy, MA.

“Working things out is almost always better than filing a claim in court. While fighting condominium trustees can seem like fighting the proverbial city hall, you will achieve better results if you gain the support of others and address the issues in a fair and intelligent manner, while trying not to personalize them. Emotions can run high with both condominium issues and pet issues, so great tact in addressing the issue is needed. The unit owners could call for a unit owner meeting following the procedures set forth in the condominium documents, and insist that the trustees address the rule violation. Unit owners could garner unit owner support without a meeting and bring a petition to the trustees. While this may not have a specific legal significance, it puts pressure on the trustees, who are charged with a fiduciary duty to the interests of the association.

“Following the proper procedures, unit owners could potentially vote in new trustees. There are usually procedures for removing trustees.

“The unit owners could hire an attorney to review the relevant documents and write to the trustees regarding this issue. The trustees will be in a weak position to enforce this (or potentially any other) rule against other unit owners if the rules are not enforced equally. That is creating a dangerous precedent for the entire condominium. The ability to enforce rules against a problem unit owner might be compromised.

“A lawsuit would be an option of last resort, as it would be expensive and would have negative effects on the association and all unit owners. Potentially, there could be a “derivative claim,” after following proper demand requirements, brought by a unit owner on behalf of the association. Alternatively, there is the potential to file for injunctive or declaratory relief and for breach of fiduciary duty.

“The above is general information and not legal advice. To give legal advice on this matter would require a full review of the condominium documents, the facts and the applicable law. I am assuming that there are no special considerations, such as a service pet for a disabled person.”