There’s a Dangerous Dog in My Building. What Can I Do About It?

Q: There is a vicious dog in my Philadelphia condo building. The dog has attacked at least two building employees, leaving bite marks and drawing blood. It also lunged at a resident who was able to jump out of the way. Each time, the dog was leashed. The owners have been asked by the condo board to muzzle the dog, but it doesn’t wear one, and the condo board hasn’t imposed fines. I reported the situation to the police, to no avail. I’m concerned that someone may be mauled by this dog before long. What do you recommend?

A: Your condo board can’t enforce criminal laws against dangerous dogs, but it can seek help in this situation.

In Pennsylvania, the Department of Agriculture employs dog wardens to handle complaints about dangerous dogs, maintain a dangerous dog registry and investigate dog bites. For a dog to be declared dangerous, one bite can be enough, but it must be severe, or the dog must have shown a prior propensity for violence, said Josephine Lee Wolf, a lawyer who represents condominium and homeowners associations in the Philadelphia area. Such a declaration is made in court and would lead to restrictions for the dog.

Whether you want to call the dog warden and alert them to your neighbor’s animal, or urge your condo board or management company to do so, is up to you.

“That’s going to be a personal decision — how far do I want to take this?” Ms. Wolf said.

The condo board should also consult its governing documents to determine how it should handle a dangerous dog. But ultimately, condo boards are not equipped to handle potential violations of criminal law, and should consult with their lawyers. Also keep in mind that boards can take enforcement actions confidentially, if authorized to do so by law, and a resolution could be in the works.

New York also has dangerous dog laws. For New Yorkers in similar situations, a condo board can seek injunctive relief in state Supreme Court, said Steven D. Sladkus, a real estate lawyer in Manhattan. Condo boards have a fiduciary duty to their unit owners, and if the board knows about a harmful animal, it should take action.

“This seems to be an imminent danger that needs to be addressed quickly,” Mr. Sladkus said. “I would have the board that controls the building seek a court order, barring the dog from the building.”

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