Prohibiting and Handling “Dangerous Animals” in an Association

Joe Wloszek_8x10@300Pet restrictions are a perennial topic of interest in Michigan and consistently one of the most discussed, debated and reviewed provisions in the condominium bylaws.  For example, some condominium bylaws prohibit “dangerous animals” from being brought to the condominium or kept on the condominium premises.  A sample provision may look like this:

No dangerous animal shall be brought to or kept on the condominium premises.  Any Co-owner, invitee, tenant, or guest who causes any dangerous animal to be brought to or kept on the condominium premises shall indemnify and hold harmless the Association for any loss, damage or liability which the Association may sustain as the result of the presence of such animal on the premises regardless of whether the Association gave its permission previously.

Often, we are asked the following questions:

  1. What constitutes a “dangerous animal” and how is the Board to know?
  2. Are specific dog breeds considered dangerous animals?  i.e. Pit Bulls, Rottweilers, German Shepherds
  3. Can the size of a dog make it a dangerous animal?

The Michigan Dangerous Animals Statute, MCL 287.321

If the condominium bylaws do not define the term “dangerous animal,” we often look to the dictionary to define the term or whether the Michigan legislature has defined the term.  Under Michigan’s Dangerous Animals statute, specifically MCL 287.321, a “dangerous animal” is defined as:

(a) “Dangerous animal” means a dog or other animal that bites or attacks a person, or a dog that bites or attacks and causes serious injury or death to another dog while the other dog is on the property or under the control of its owner. However, a dangerous animal does not include any of the following:

(i) An animal that bites or attacks a person who is knowingly trespassing on the property of the animal’s owner.
(ii) An animal that bites or attacks a person who provokes or torments the animal.
(iii) An animal that is responding in a manner that an ordinary and reasonable person would conclude was designed to protect a person if that person is engaged in a lawful activity or is the subject of an assault.
(iv) Livestock.

(b) “Livestock” means animals used for human food and fiber or animals used for service to human beings. Livestock includes, but is not limited to, cattle, swine, sheep, llamas, goats, bison, equine, poultry, and rabbits. Livestock does not include animals that are human companions, such as dogs and cats.

Thus, when the condominium bylaws are silent as to what constitutes a “dangerous animal,” we look to a dictionary definition or how Michigan statute(s) define the term to offer guidance.  If the Board of Directors becomes aware of an issue, the Board will need to be aware of not only the definition of a dangerous animal if it is not defined in the condominium bylaws, but also the four exceptions above.

To be clear, the term “dangerous animal” (as defined by the Dangerous Animals statute above) does not refer to breeds of dogs in Michigan.  If an Association wants to outright ban specific types of animals or breeds of animals, an amendment to the condominium bylaws may be in order.  In addition, and also under the statute, the term “dangerous animal” does not apply to the size or weight of a dog.

Conclusion

Boards of Directors and Co-owners should be aware of Michigan’s Dangerous Animals statute and the potential impact it may have helping define what constitutes a dangerous animal.  If the definition above does not comport with your Association’s view of dangerous animals, you may wish to consider amending your condominium bylaws to more clearly articulate what your association considers a dangerous animal.

Joe Wloszek is an attorney in our Livonia office where he focuses his practice on condominium law, commercial litigation, commercial real estate, large contractual disputes, and title litigation.  He may be reached at (734) 261-2400 or jwloszek@cmda-law.com.