Wilbur the Pig and Domestic Animals
April 15, 2013

Now that this blog has addressed some of the basics of homeowners association and condominium association governance in Tennessee, it will look at some actual events and issues (not always in Tennessee) involving homeowners associations and condominium associations.

Last year, an amusing story came out of Texas involving a homeowners association and a Vietnamese pot-bellied pig named Wilbur.  In December 2010, Alex Sardo gave his wife, Missy, Wilbur as a Christmas gift.  The Sardos own a home in The Thicket at Cypresswood Community Improvement Association, a homeowners association.  Neighbors of the Sardos brought the presence of Wilbur to the attention of the association.  On April 6, 2011, the association sent the Sardos a letter stating that they had violated the restrictive covenants of the association and they had thirty days to get rid of the pig.  If the Sardos failed to comply, the association threatened to file a lawsuit.

The Sardos kept Wilbur and sued the association.

In the association’s protective covenants, household pets were defined as “domestic animals commonly and traditionally kept as household pets and shall not include any wild, semi-wild or semi-domesticated animal”.  During the trial, the Sardos attorney put on experts who testified that Vietnamese pot-bellied pigs have been bred and kept as household pets and used as nothing else for years.  The association’s attorney argued that it was not necessary to determine what was a common and traditional pet, but rather that a critical mass of pig ownership was necessary for the animal to be considered common.

After due consideration, the court held that Wilbur was a domestic animal.  Consequently, the Sardos could keep him.

A humorous story, yes.  But, this matter illustrates several issues homeowners associations and condominium associations need to consider.

First, if your association is concerned about non-traditional domestic animals, such as Wilbur, do your documents address them?

Second, litigation is sometimes an option for an association, but it is an expensive option.  In this case, the association lost.  But, it still had to pay its attorneys’ fees.  While the news story does not illustrate the exact strategy of the association, perhaps a strategy that attempted to resolve the issue from the beginning in a less combative way would have achieved better results.  For example, what was the association’s true concern, the presence of the pig or the destruction of yard?

Third, the documents matter.

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