HOAs could not ban big dogs under bill before Colorado legislature

Colorado’s House of Representatives is gearing up for a dog fight as it tackles a bill to prohibit community associations from banning dogs based on their size or breed.

“People with big dogs are having a hard time finding a place to live,” said Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Denver/Arapahoe, explaining why he drafted the legislation, scheduled for a floor debate Wednesday.

The bill summary, only two sentences long, “invalidates any covenant that prohibits the keeping of certain types of dogs based solely on a breed, weight, or size classification.”

Community rules on nuisance barking, the disposal of waste and the number of dogs allowed per household would remain valid. Municipal rules barring vicious breeds, primarily pit bulls, aren’t impacted.

Rosenthal said he ran into a problem with housing several years back when his brother went on military deployment and he had to watch his dog, a Samoyed and Golden Retriever mix.

He ran into the issue again when a fellow teacher at his school broke up with her boyfriend and moved out with two German Shepherds. No condo would accept the dogs. After she had moved into a house with a roommate, the landlord told her they weren’t allowed. She ended up giving them to her ex, who moved to Utah.

But the bill has some HOA members worried it will usurp their rights to set the rules.

“This bill is the most invasive government proposal on HOA homeowners’ rights to ever be proposed, and, worse yet, it is going to set off a legal bombshell and could end up costing HOAs thousands of dollars a year,” said Stan Hrincevich, the president of the Colorado HOA Forum.

In an appeal to legislators, he said community bylaws reflect the will of owners and can only be legally changed by a vote of those owners. The bill would change the rules of the game after the fact.

Some people have chosen communities specifically because of the limits they had on large dogs and removing restrictions could open communities to litigation and cause insurance premiums to rise, Hrincevich said.

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In years of working HOA cases, attorney Molly Foley-Healy said disputes involving dogs almost always come down to three core behaviors, which more often than not are about pet owners, not the pet: “Dogs only become an issue in an association when they are barking incessantly and owners aren’t taking action to stop it or if they are let off a leash or if the owners aren’t picking up the poop.”

She also notes that the federal Fair Housing Act allows people to claim a pet as an emotional support animal, which can circumvent HOA rules.

“If you have a disability and you need an assistance animal, you can get an exemption from the prohibition. That has become the huge loophole,” she said.

Rosenthal said the bill resonates with large-dog owners regardless of party affiliation. That may be one reason the House Committee on Local Government referred it to the House on a 9-4 vote, with members of each party on both sides of that vote.

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