A homeowner association (HOA) may be liable for a dog bite that happens on property that it controls. The HOA is responsible for keeping common areas safe for residents and visitors. If the HOA is negligent in upholding that fiduciary duty, it can be held liable for a dog bite caused by its negligence.
When can a homeowner association be held liable for a dog bite?
HOAs can be held liable for a dog bite if their negligence was a cause for the attack. An HOA’s negligence can lead to a dog attack in a wide variety of ways. The most common is for the HOA to negligently enforce the community association’s Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions, or CC&Rs. If that failure to enforce the rules of the neighborhood contributes to a dog attack, the victim may be able to hold the HOA liable.
Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions
CC&Rs are the rules and regulations or bylaws that pertain to the properties in the HOA. These governing documents can cover almost any aspect of the properties within the Association, from:
- permissible house colors,
- allowable lawn length,
- political lawn signs,
- holiday decorations, to
- which property management company will do the landscaping in common areas.
CC&Rs will also generally have provisions that regulate pets within the Association. Some of the most common of these pet-related rules are:
- limits on how many pets a household can have,
- pet restrictions on which breeds of dogs homeowners can have, most commonly a prohibition against dangerous dog breeds with propensities to bite, like pit bulls,
- weight restrictions, like a prohibition against dogs over 60 pounds,
- no breeding or raising dogs for sale or for an illegal purpose,
- pets have to be leashed in common areas,
- no dogs barking after hours or in violation of noise ordinances, and
- a requirement that dog owners surrender or euthanize a vicious dog that has bitten someone or been the subject of a complaint to animal control.
There may be limitations on these rules. In California, for example, state law forbids CC&Rs from prohibiting a homeowner from having any pets, at all.1
The HOA is tasked with enforcing these rules. If the HOA fails to enforce the CC&R, and that failure leads to a dog attack that hurts someone, the HOA may be held liable.
For example: The HOA has a CC&R that requires all dog owners to leash their dogs while in common areas. However, the HOA has never enforced the rule. Deidre is out with her unleashed dog in the common area. Her dog suddenly runs off and bites someone visiting the neighborhood.
The HOA can also face potential liability for a dog attack if the broken CC&R provision was not related to pets. All that matters is that the failure to enforce the CC&R led to the dog bite injury.
For example: Jack has a 4-foot fence surrounding his backyard to keep his dog in. His HOA’s CC&Rs require pet-containing fences to be at least 6 feet. However, the HOA never moved to enforce this rule. One day, Jack’s dog jumps the fence and attacks another homeowner in the area.
What is an HOA?
An HOA is an organization of homeowners in a particular area. The homeowners pay dues to the organization, which are known as HOA fees. Those fees go towards maintaining common areas and building new facilities for the homeowners to use. Additionally, the HOA creates rules that homeowners within the organization have to follow. The HOA can take action against homeowners who do not comply with the rules.
HOAs are especially common in:
- condominium complexes or buildings,
- gated communities, or
- planned communities.
Generally, anyone who buys a home within the HOA automatically falls within the HOA’s jurisdiction. They have to comply with the rules set out by the HOA, often in the CC&R, and pay HOA fees.
The members of the HOA come from the body of homeowners within the organization. They often form a board of directors. They are often voted on every year or few years.
Who else can be liable for a dog attack?
The HOA is often only a fallback option for victims of dog attacks. Not only is it rare for a dog attack to happen on property covered by an HOA, but even when it does happen there are often other sources of compensation available. These tend to be the dog owner’s:
- insurance coverage, and
- personal assets.
Many dog bite injuries are covered by the owner’s homeowner’s insurance policy’s liability coverage. However, many of these policies require the dog owner to opt in to the coverage, usually in an insurance rider. Unfortunately, the owner of the dog will rarely do this because it increases their premiums.
Occasionally, the dog owner’s renter’s insurance policy will cover the dog attack. For attacks that happen on HOA property, this is uncommon, though. Renter’s insurance is generally only an option if the dog attack happened when a visitor brought an aggressive dog onto HOA property and the visiting tenant’s dog bit someone.
Even if there is insurance coverage for the dog attack, it might not be enough to cover all of the victim’s losses. The policy limit will matter. Many renter’s and homeowner’s insurance policies have limits of $100,000. In 2021, the average insurance payout for a dog bite lawsuit was $49,025.2 However, it varied widely by state, with claims in New York settling for an average of $68,203.3 If you suffered dog bite injuries that were more severe than normal, the insurance coverage might run out before you are fully compensated.
If this happens, you can pursue your claim against the dog owner, him- or herself. Holding someone personally liable like this is unlikely to recover very much compensation, though. They would have to pay for your costs with their own money or assets.
These are the cases where it is important to find another source of compensation in a personal injury claim. Pursuing homeowner association liability can be a good option for dog bite victims. It can help the victim in a dog bite case recover the costs of their medical bills and other losses. Because these were caused by the HOA’s failure to enforce its rules and the dangerous condition that this created, the HOA can be held responsible.
- California Civil Code 4715 CIV.
- Insurance Information Institute, “U.S. Home Insurers Paid Out Nearly $900M in Dog-Related Claims in 2021,” (April 12, 2022).