While an owner’s love for their dog is unconditional, sometimes our friendly dogs are not so friendly to our neighbors. This can be a serious concern for community associations, especially when dogs are permitted on the common areas. Many communities have some type of provision in their governing documents on animals, but not all of them outline a procedure for dealing with dogs and/or other pets that exhibit aggressive behavior. Regardless, boards and property managers need to understand the potential liability for their associations if there is an incident.

Look to the Governing Documents

A lot of governing documents give the board discretion for determining whether an animal is dangerous or displays aggressive behavior. If so, and presuming there has been an incident, look to see if the association also has authority to fine the owner and/or demand that the dog is muzzled and leashed while outside the owner’s home. If the animal continues to exhibit threatening behavior, the board may be able to demand that the animal is completely removed from the community. This may be necessary for the association to avoid liability, especially if the animal truly presents a danger to the health, safety, or property of residents. With this type of language in the governing documents, a community may be able to resolve animal issues without the need for animal control services and/or litigation.

Look to Georgia Law

In addition to any language in the governing documents, state and local law may also be able to aid a community association in resolving issues with dangerous animals. For example, Georgia law, O.C.G.A. § 51-2-7, states that a person that owns or keeps a vicious or danger animal and carelessly manages that animal or allows it to go free, may be liable for the injuries that the animal causes to another person that did not provoke the harm. Similarly, the Responsible Dog Ownership Law, O.C.G.A. § 4-8-20, et seq., provides that once a dog control officer receives a report of a dog believed to be subject to classification as vicious or dangerous, the officer shall make an investigation as to the dog’s classification, provide the owner an opportunity for a hearing. If the dog owner is unsatisfied with the classification determined by the dog control officer, then judicial review is available. In sum, it can be useful for boards and property managers to point out the state and local law so dangerous animal owners are on notice of the potential liability.

Furthermore, Georgia courts have held that owners are liable for injuries caused by their dogs. In Johnston v. Warendh , the Court of Appeals of Georgia outlines an owner’s liability in the event a dog bites someone: “Traditionally, courts have presumed all dogs to be of a harmless variety and hence required proof of the dangerous nature of a particular dog and proof of his owners’ knowledge of that individual’s deviation from presumptive harmlessness.” The foregoing standard requires proper and consistent documentation by the association of all incidents. More recently, the Supreme Court of Georgia held in Steagald v. Eason that, “[a]n attempt to bite in the absence of provocation most certainly may be proof of a propensity to bite without provocation.” Therefore, an owner’s dog does not actually have to bite another resident in order for the dog owner to be on notice of the dog’s propensity to attack another.

The underlying takeaway for boards and property managers is that, regardless of whether a community’s governing documents address “dangerous” animals, providing some type of notice to the owner about the incident can help prevent futures issues, and it can help the association defend against negligence claims