Mobile Home Park Mastery: Episode 75

Dealing With Animals

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The methods for managing residents are well established, but how do you deal with the four-legged variety that are also living on your property? The good news is that there’s a methodology for that, as well. Whether it’s dogs, cats or even livestock, the mobile home park industry has a virtual user’s manual for dealing with animals based on law, past experience, and customer needs.

Episode Transcript

Animals in Mobile Home Parks, a very interesting topic. This is Frank Rolfe from the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series, and we're going to talk all about animals, the different variety, and how the industry over the years has come to address the issues that each of these requires.

First, we're going to break it up into five categories: wild animals, livestock, pets, and service animals. Let's start with wild animals.

Now, what are wild animals in a Mobile Home Park? Well, typically there's such items as feral cats, possums, squirrels, skunks. Those kinds of animals, which although may be cute looking, can often cause all kinds of problems: disease, other bad side effects like the smell of a skunk. Now, residents cannot have typically wild animals in their home or on their lot unless those animals are companion animals, which we'll come to in a moment. But by and large it's very rare that somebody has a companion animal of a feral cat or a possum.

So what do you do with those in the Mobile Home Park? How do you get rid of them? Well, the good news is you can hire a pest control company to try to accomplish that, but the bad news is they typically fail most of the time. The problem is that those animals are pretty clever. They're pretty smart. They're very hard to trap. In the case of feral cats, they're nearly impossible to trap because they know, they can sense the fact that there's imminent danger and they will not go into any form of trap. And I'm not talking traps here as far as killing the animals. This is all live catch and release only. These animals are typically protected by city, state, and federal law. So we're not talking about extermination of the animal. We're talking about relocation of the animal from some place that's a little more appropriate than a Mobile Home Park.

Now, we have over the last 20 years attempted on several occasions to combat these issues. But you'll be as unlucky and as unsuccessful in doing so as any other subdivision or mcmansion subdivision because they're just too hard to catch. And even if you catch one, you're not going to eradicate the problem. You might reduce it by one or two to get moved somewhere else, but it's not going to solve it. So most of the time wild animals are just that wild animals, which the wildest animal we've had in a Mobile Home Park. Well, we have a Mobile Home Park in New Mexico in Ruidoso, and there we are not allowed to have curb side poly cart trashcans because of bears. Bears frequently come down from the mountains and if you have your trash and food in a poly cart, it simply rips the poly cart top off and eats the food. So that's pretty wild. I've also seen tracks of mountain lions in Mobile Home Parks in New Mexico, and there are probably some of those also in Colorado. But that's obviously atypical. Normally the wild animals in a Mobile Home Park are smaller and little less dangerous.

Now let's move on to livestock. Livestock, which would be cows, horses, chickens, those kinds of things are actually banned in most cities. So in most cities that we operate in, those are not allowed at all. You cannot have any form of livestock in those cities unless you have a one acre lot. And sense most mobile homes are on a tenth of an acre or a seventh of an acre, that really doesn't come into play. Now, that being said, once again, like the wild animals, if someone has a companion chicken, if they have a companion pig, then I can't stop them from having that at the Mobile Home Park. But by and large your normal roosters and chickens and cows and horses and mini horses, those things are not allowed in Mobile Home Parks by city law.

Now let's move on to pets. These are animals that are domesticated. They're only there for the pleasure of the owner, and in most Mobile Home Parks, we allow cats of unlimited size, we allow birds, we allow reptiles, we allow all kinds of things except one item. We do not allow dogs over 30 pounds in weight. In other parks, maybe 35 pounds. I don't think it really matters whether it's 30 or 35 pounds. What you're trying to exclude here are really, really large dogs. Now you might say, why is that? Why do Mobile Home Parks care about large dogs? Well, they care about large dogs because there's been a couple of very, very notable lawsuits involving dog mauling's of people in Mobile Home Parks. In fact, one of the largest insurance cases ever to my knowledge in a park was a situation where a rottweiler bit the arms off of a small child in a Mobile Home Park. And I think the jury award was around $100 million. I'm not sure how it ended up. It was appealed, but nevertheless, that's just too much liability. So most park owners and almost all insurance companies do not allow dogs over 30 to 35 pounds. Any other form of domesticated pet is perfectly fine. So really anything someone goes out and buys at PetSmart and brings home is going to be okay as long as it's not a large dog.

Now, let's talk about large dogs. What do you do with them? Well, let's say the dog is over 30 or 35 pounds. There's two variety of large dogs. There are what are called the dangerous breeds. Those are dobermans, rottweilers, all kinds of unusual breeds. The dogoargentino, for example. There's about 15 or so of these dangerous breeds, and there's lots of byproducts of those under little subcategories under each of those breeds. But the bottom line is most insurance companies will not allow those in your park at all. However, if someone claims that their rottweiler is a service animal or that it's a companion animal, you cannot stop them. So you probably are getting the message here so far in this Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast lecture that there's this wrinkle in pets these days, which as long as the owner claims it's a companion or a service animals, it's off limits. You can't stop it.

Now, what if you have a large dog? So this would be a dog over 30 or 35 pounds, but it's not one of the dangerous breeds. The most common golden retriever and black lab. There's other types of dogs out there that are big dogs but are naturally pretty friendly and are not known to cause any kind of dog attacks. Those are typically forbidden by your insurance companies as a park owner, but there is one loophole. Some insurance companies will allows those dogs to remain if the tenant has private insurance. Now you'll say, what is private insurance? What it means is they go out to an insurance company and they get a policy on that large dog, such that if the dog attacks anyone, the park is not responsible, the resident's insurance is responsible. Now typically a private insurance of a large dog, your insurance company will require it be at least $1 million, and because of that, those policies are not cheap. Because dogs, even if they're not a dangerous breed, are still sometimes known to have an attack. So it's typically about $500 to $1000 per year.

Now, if a resident was to go that route and say, "Hey, I want to privately insure my dog," and your insurance company was okay with that, bear in mind, you must always stay vigilant to the fact they've been paying their premiums. It would do you no good if they showed you their proof of insurance, and then stopped making payments for the next month. In fact, it has lapsed. So if you're going to let a resident follow that path of action, you are going to have to be very proactive to make sure that they are doing what they're supposed to be doing as far as paying that premium, or, in fact, you've now become uninsured.

Now going back to the dangerous breeds then, because that causes the bulk of all Mobile Home Park problems. How do you work around this? What happens if they say it's a service animal? Well, if you're like us, we don't like liability. Tenant says that their dog is a service animal, we are going to tell our insurance company that they've got a dog that's a dangerous breed but it's a service animal. And typically service animals are no problem with anyone. They're very well trained. They're very well behaved. Where you get into trouble is that dangerous breed of dog, which is now a companion animal. Here's why there's a problem. Anyone can go on Ebay and get a vest for a dog that says companion animal. Anyone can go on Ebay and buy a certificate from what is supposed to be a doctor that you fill in your name in the blanks saying that you are allowed to have this companion animal. So obviously it's prone to a lot of fraud. There's a lot of people out there who claim to have companion animals, companion large dangerous breeds of dogs, and, in fact, truly are not, they are not companion animals.

Often your insurance company's going to press that envelope. You're not on as the park owner. The last thing you need is a lawsuit from someone regarding a service animal or a companion animal. But often on companion animals, the insurance company can go to that person and say, "Hey, let me see that insurance item from the doctor's saying that this is a companion animal," and they may dispute it. They may say this is not a real letter. This is something you bought off Ebay. You never actually met with that doctor. So it's possible they will unwind this fraudulent concept of it being companion animal. But in the case of a service animal, no. And anyone, I would imagine in America, over the age of five can spot a legitimate service animal. So those have never been an issue anywhere in any Mobile Home Park. However, these companion animals that we're not really sure are legitimately are a companion animals or not, that is a dangerous item.

Now, have we ever had a dog attack? Have we ever had an issue with a pet? Sure we have. We had a case a few years ago where a resident had, when we purchased the park, a dangerous breed of dog, a rottweiler. We told them they could not have the dog. They said if the dog goes, I go. We said fine. Well, then I guess you're gone. So they changed their mind and they said, "Wait a minute. I don't want to leave. I'll go ahead and get rid of the dog." Fortunately, we had them sign something stating that the dog was gone. Nevertheless, they apparently sneaked it back in. One day they left their door ajar and the dog got out of the home and proceeded to attack a small dog that was walking down the street on a leash. The owner tried to pick up their small dog, and the rottweiler attacked the owner and had some very serious injuries from that. Fortunately for us we had full documentation the dog was not supposed to be there. So there was no award giving against us. But nevertheless, when it comes to those big, dangerous breeds of dogs, we have to remain ever vigilant because bad things could happen.

Speaking of dogs, there's a couple other items that you must know regarding dogs in Mobile Home Parks. Mobile Home Parks, as you know, have very high density. You can't just have a large dogs or small dogs running wild. So all dogs, regardless of size, at all times when in the Mobile Home Park must be either (a) in the residence home, (b) in a fenced yard or enclosure, or (c) on a leash. Dogs are never allowed to run free ever.

What about cats you might say. Well, cats are kind of hard to monitor. So cats can often run around in the yard if the resident lets them out of where they escape. They will normally, I imagine, return home. But nevertheless, based on the algorithm of injuries in the past, that's not really going to cause any problems. So insurance companies are very, very easy to get along with on really every form of pet there is except for those dangerous breeds of dogs and/or the larger breeds of dogs that are not dangerous.

But the key item here is if you're going to buy a Mobile Home Park, you better go out and get on Wikipedia and start learning all about service animals and companion animals because that's become a huge problem, and it's not just for Mobile Home Park owners. Look at poor old Southwest Airlines in the airline industry. There have been a number of cases recently where the airline industry were required to let people bring companion animals on planes. I recently read an article that said on a Southwest flight, they had to allow someone to bring a pet miniature horse claiming it was a companion animal. However, they did ban a companion animal peacock because they said it's shrieking noise would scare passengers and/or the pilot. So what does it all mean? I imagine in the years ahead, a lot of this companion animals will be washed away through new legislation not coming from the Mobile Home Park industry, probably coming from the airline industry or maybe other businesses like that.

Now, there's certainly nothing wrong with legitimate companion animals. What I'm talking about here are cases of people who don't really have companion animals but simply go on Ebay to buy the vest to get away with murder regarding their own pet, and that's really not in the best interest of anyone, certainly not the public at large or even in the best interest of that person in case there is an injury that comes from their pet.

So, again, this is Frank Rolfe from the Mobile Home Park Mastery podcast series talking about animals in Mobile Home Parks. Hope you enjoyed this. Talk to you again soon.