Feeding Wild and Feral Animals in HOAs

As development continues to crowd out open space previously occupied by wild animals, North Carolina community associations find themselves increasingly close neighbors with deer, racoons, foxes, and other “wild” animals.  These animals come into yards and happily munch on gardens, landscaping and occasionally someone’s beloved cat or dog. Combine development issues, poor control of domestic animal breeding, and owners with sympathies for hungry and thirsty animals, and you are left with an association caught between reasonable controls on animals and those who want to help them. We are often asked what associations can (and should) do to regulate wild animals around their communities, and the humans who want to help them.

Many associations have clear restrictions on when and how domestic pets and animals generally may be maintained on private property. An association must have authority in the covenants or bylaws to regulate animals on lots and cannot enforce regulations on private property otherwise. Usually covenants will contain language that requires that the animals be kept confined within the lots, restrained or controlled when on common area, and maintained in such a way that they do not create a nuisance for other residents. Covenants may prohibit outside dog runs or similar structures that would allow an animal to primarily reside outside. And they may prohibit certain animals outright as being inappropriate within a given community.  However, covenants tend to be silent on where and how to feed and water animals kept on lots, leaving that issue to the individual animal owner. This can create a vacuum of direction or authority for an association faced with a resident who wants to leave out food for feral or wild animals on their own property.  This can lead to health and safety concerns, and complaints from neighbors that the activity be curtailed. What then is an association to do?

The association must review and understand their own authority. Frequently they will need to consult with their attorney on the limitations of their power over a given activity. Restrictive covenants related to the use of land are narrowly construed in North Carolina. That means that a court won’t read a covenant or authority as being broader than it really is. If the governing documents don’t contain any language that would allow an association to regulate the feeding and watering of animals on lots, or some other general nuisance type authority that could be used, the association may simply not have authority to regulate this activity on private property.

Some cities and counties have ordinances specifically designed to address keeping and feeding wild or feral animals outside. The City of Charlotte prohibits the keeping (and feeding) of exotic and wild animals. This definition includes obvious animals (lions and tigers!) but also more nuisance type animals, such as deer, racoons and foxes. Associations don’t enforce local ordinances, but they can notify residents who are violating these rules of their existence and report them to local government for enforcement action.

We also see issues with residents wishing to feed outside feral animals, in particular cats. Just as Charlotte prohibits feeding wild and exotic animals, it also prohibits feeding three or more cats that are frequently outdoors without a permit. An uncontrolled colony of feral cats can quickly become a huge problem, with fleas, pet waste and other issues. Associations are encouraged to work with residents and animal control to curtail outdoor feeding in these situations, particularly if the animals are not fixed. Many local T&R (trap and release) organizations will work with communities to trap, spay and neuter feral cats. This will quickly result in reduction of the animal problem and will provide the association with an opportunity to address outdoor feeding with the residents in a productive way.

While most of this discussion has been about resident feeding of animals on private property. For common areas, the issue is much easier to handle. Associations can almost always adopt reasonable rules and regulations for the common areas. Associations should confirm their authority to do this, and then adopt clear and understandable rules prohibiting animal feeding on that property.

Bambi is cute—and so are kittens—but associations will need to understand their authority and obligations when it comes to regulating animal issues, and proceed in the best interests of all owners and their residents.

Please contact any of our community association attorneys to discuss any questions you may have.

HOA & Condo Associations