When you have a pet and want to buy a condo one of the first things we'll check for is the pet policy. There's a field in our multiple listing service that requires the listing agent to disclose the pet policy of the condominium. The choices are: yes, no, case-by-case, size/weight restrictions, no dogs at all or breed restrictions.
Case-by-case only makes sense for rental listings but I see it frequently (unfortunately). What it means is that the listing agent doesn't actually have a clue what the pet policy is and didn't care to find out prior to putting the home on the market. I know, I know.. it shouldn't be like that, yet it is. The due diligence is on the buyer and buyer's agent.
But you can trust a solid yes or no answer? No, unfortunately you cannot.
A tale from the Real Estate trenches
Earlier this year I was hunting for a first home with my dog-loving-and-owning clients. We toured many properties, and for each one that was a contender we verified the pet policy as much as possible beforehand. We checked the listing, I cross-referenced it with previous sales in the same building or complex, I called the listing agent, we searched for clues in the community (such as pet waste stations, residents walking dogs etc.) and on the community website, and later also resorted to calling each property management office and asking them directly to check the recorded by-laws.
I am embarrassed to admit, how many times the information provided in the listings (not mine) was incorrect. Multiple listings in the same building provided different answers and ranged from yes to no, from case-by-case to weight restrictions. It's safe to assume that only one of them is the correct one.
One condo my buyers were particularly interested in also stated "yes" for pets allowed? We toured the property during an open house and asked the listing agent and seller (who was in attendance) directly if there is a restrictive pet policy. We received a confident "no" and the explanation that there are many dogs in the community, there's a large one just 3 doors down. We wrote the offer. We got the house. We cleared the inspections. But ended up having to chase after the condo docs. We received them 3+ weeks into the contract period, a day late and only because I insisted on putting a rush on the order that was placed too late by the seller/listing side.
When the condo docs finally hit our inboxes, the first thing we looked for was the pet policy which - you are probably guessing by now - turned out to not be an 'all pets allowed policy'. This community had restrictions in place, allowing for only 1 pet up to 20 lbs. Not only was my client's dog twice the size but they were also planning on adding a companion in the near future.
Since they loved the property so much and had already invested time, money and emotions, they wanted to find a solution. Had the pet policy been amended by any chance? Perhaps it's possible to get a waiver?
We got in touch with the property management company who wasn't even aware that the community they were in charge of had pet restrictions in place. They actually suggested to just move in since "it's not being enforced". Yeah.. no. It doesn't matter if it's currently being enforced or not, it's written into the recorded by-laws and, thus, enforceable at any time.
We also submitted a petition for a waiver in the hopes the condo board would consider it. Let's just say that it was exhausting trying to get a hold of and an answer from the property manager/board. Days went by with just the promise of a response.
As is the law in the State of Maryland, my buyers had 7 days to review the docs and the right to rescind the contract within that review period. And that is just what they ended up doing.
You can absolutely walk away from a transaction if the condo docs reveal that your pet is not welcome. That is a valid reason - but you actually do not have to state one when you rescind the contract during the condo doc review period. It also does not require the seller's signature on a contract release, but it does on the release of security deposit. The seller has no claim to any part of your EMD (earnest money deposit) in this case - provided that you submit the Unilateral Release prior to the deadline expiring. My buyers chose to rescind and search for another home in a more pet-friendly community.
They celebrated their Happy Closing Day in August!
I adore my four-legged companion, Lennon, the Real Estate dog and would have made the same decision as my clients. But understand that as your REALTOR® I am here to guide you, seek answers, call relentlessly if needed to get the answers, research, follow-up, find solutions, advise you of your options and go over the pros and cons for each. The decision is 100% yours to make. If you are willing to take a chance and live with the possible consequences, then you do have that option as well.
*This blog post is a tale from the Real Estate trenches to illustrate a contract pitfall, the importance of due diligence, one of the gazillion things to watch out for and verify, a solution to what if and a - perhaps not so subtle - call to action that you should absolutely hire an experienced buyer's agent (Me!). This post is not legal advice. If that is what you need, please consult competent legal counsel.*
*This blog post is also an entry in ActiveRain's September challenge: Crazy Real Estate Stories. I have been actively licensed in Maryland since October 2004 (yep, I started when I was like 12 ;) and I have lots of stories! This one though had a few crazies rolled into one, most notable:
1. The listing agent put the condo back on the market without correcting the pet policy! To this day it states: no pet restrictions.
2. The suggestion from the property management office to "just move in, the pet policy is not being enforced". The manager can change, the by-laws generally do not. If it's written in the by-laws, it's enforceable.
3. At some point in the midst of trying to find a solution, the suggestion was made (not by me!) to just execute an addendum "all parties agree" that the pet policy is not being enforced and the buyer's dog should be just fine. This was just wrong on so many levels. I am not a party to the contract and would never sign such an addendum. No manager, agent, seller.. can overrule the by-laws, it takes a majority vote of all the residents. Try rallying up the masses to get that pushed through! Secondly, see #2. It's in the by-laws. It's enforceable. That is all that matters at the end.