Q&A

Homeowners find it not so pleasant when their street is 'discovered' by professional dog walkers

QUESTION: Our common-interest development is in the middle of a busy area in Los Angeles but still off the beaten path. It faces a public street that the city maintains along with street lighting and sidewalks. Five years ago, our area was discovered by dog-walking services. We know they are paid because of their flyers and business cards. Their branded vehicles would take up all of our valuable parking spaces. Some professional walkers juggle eight canines at a time, four leashed on each arm.

Most of these walkers pick up their dogs’ mess but the urine still damages stucco, wood, brick fencing and vegetation closest to the sidewalks. It is costly and not always possible to remove the stains and odor left behind, prompting some property owners to replace gates and fences. Even though most walkers pick up their dog waste, vegetation in the area still dies and continues to smell and attract flies. Some owners have even found bags of waste apparently tossed onto their property.

We have incurred big expenses in landscape upkeep that we would not otherwise have. We contacted various pet companies asking them to share our landscape costs; they declined. Afterward, they sneakily parked many blocks away but continued to walk their dogs using our sidewalks. Now they use unmarked cars but still conduct their dog walking here.

The walkers are a nuisance. They talk loudly, they use walkie-talkies and cell phones, and their dogs bark and growl at people and other animals. Some owners have approached them, asking for dog licenses and vaccination information — confrontations that have turned ugly. The walkers insist they are under no obligation to provide proof of business licenses, dog licenses or vaccination information.

Our board won’t get involved because it only affects owners whose homes front the public street. Don’t the dog walkers have to provide their business licenses, dog licenses and vaccination information if asked? What’s the law and what can we do about it?

ANSWER: Other than supporting your efforts to identify the wrongdoers, your board cannot do much because this isn’t really an “association” problem.

Companies can conduct business on public property, such as streets and sidewalks, with the necessary permits. Even if additional licenses, permits or bonds are required, a private citizen cannot directly force a business operator to present proof of compliance.

And though it is possible some of the paid dog walkers do not have business licenses, there is a whole industry of law-abiding dog-walking services in Southern California that are licensed.

In Los Angeles, various animal-related businesses and activities, including dog grooming and mobile grooming, operate with permits. Individual cities have different ordinances, but typically there are requirements for obtaining a bond, dog licenses and leashes, a maximum number of dogs walked at one time, and properly caring for and cleaning up after animals in their care.

Still, the fact that a professional dog walker has a business license doesn't prevent residential neighborhoods from being overburdened by dog-walking services.

So what can neighbors in your community and property owners in your association do?

The Los Angeles Municipal Code specifically states that it is “unlawful for the owner or person having custody of any dog to fail to immediately remove and dispose of in a sanitary manner . . . any feces deposited by such dog upon public or private property, without the consent of the public or private owner or person in lawful possession of the property, other than property owned or controlled by the owner or person having custody of such dog.” (LAMC 53.49).

You might try posting signs reminding people to clean up after their pets so it will be clear there is no implied consent that anyone can leave droppings or waste on private property.

Owners can also start documenting the dog walkers’ activities, including photographing or videotaping those who violate the law and any damage they cause.

While it may be worth telling these dog walkers to clean up any mess they create, it is not worth getting into an aggressive confrontation.

The Los Angeles City Attorney's Dispute Resolution Program offers mediation and informal resolution assistance at no cost. Mediators are professional and trained in group facilitation with a goal of resolving difficult situations where there may be several people, even large groups, requiring assistance or intervention, such as in your neighborhood. Contact: (213) 978-1880.

If that is unsuccessful, start reporting violations to the proper authorities. These dog walkers may not be required to provide proof of compliance to property owners, but they are required to provide proof to law enforcement or other regulatory agencies. Let the authorities determine whether there was a violation of the law or if there is a business that should be shut down.

Shaphan Roberts, director of the City Attorney’s Dispute Resolution Program, said neighborhood prosecutors in his office, as well as senior lead officers at the local LAPD station and the area’s Community-Police Advisory Board, welcome the opportunity to interact with residents in resolving issues like these.

As with most legal issues, you can always improve your position by consistently documenting and reporting your complaints.

There is also strength in numbers, so band together with like-minded neighbors — even if they don't participate in the complaints, they will be less likely to patronize the services of companies that aren’t following the rules. Economic pressure is sometimes more efficient than legal action.

Zachary Levine, a partner at Wolk & Levine, a business and intellectual property law firm, co-wrote this column. Vanitzian is an arbitrator and mediator. Send questions to Donie Vanitzian, JD, P.O. Box 10490, Marina del Rey, CA 90295 ornoexit@mindspring.com

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