A Conversation About Pet Policy
VP: Last year, we passed new house rules that will limit the number of animals to three. But we have an elderly, rent-controlled tenant who has about eight to nine cats. There have never been any complaints nor is there an odor. Yet the owner of her apartment has been served with an eviction notice unless she gets rid of her cats. There is a law stating that if there are no complaints for three months from the owner/landlord, the cats are automatically legal. This complaint/eviction is new, the rules were passed last year, so this would apply to her. But we were told that there is another law protecting rent-controlled tenants from this kind of harassment. Anyone know of this?
CDT: Assuming that the cat lady has owned her cats for a long time, the board is completely in the wrong. Rent control isn’t an issue. Once a tenant has openly owned a pet for three months, there is nothing that can be done and changing the house rules doesn’t alter this fact.
It doesn’t matter when the house rule was passed; that’s a red herring. Otherwise, all a board would have to do is periodically change the house rules to allow pets for a couple of months, then change them back and claim that the three-month clock started with the passage of the “new” rule.
Here’s a link:
“Where a tenant in a multiple dwelling openly and notoriously for a period of three months or more following taking possession of a unit, harbors or has harbored a household pet or pets, [...] such lease provision [prohibiting pets] shall be deemed waived. ... It shall be unlawful for an owner or his or her agent, by express terms or otherwise, to restrict a tenant’s rights as provided in this section. Any such restriction shall be unenforceable and deemed void as against public policy.”
STEVE-INWOOD: We have a similar elderly lady in our co-op (she rents) who had many cats. We don’t have a rule limiting the number of cats but it was obvious from the smells that she was having trouble caring for them well. The various “extra” cats were parceled out to good homes within the co-op and she is down to three or four. I am not a lawyer, however my personal opinion is that no judge would throw out an elderly lady for this rule especially if the cats are being well maintained and existed previously.
It looks like there’s one provision in the pet law that might be of use with someone who has a jillion cats:
“The waiver provision of this section shall not apply where the harboring of a household pet causes damage to the subject premise, creates a nuisance or interferes substantially with the health, safety or welfare of other tenants or occupants of the same or adjacent building or structure.”
Again, this has nothing to do with house rules. If there’s a substantial health or nuisance issue, other protections kick in. (I’m not a lawyer; please consult your own!)
Gluegirls: You are on the right track CDT. You can file a complaint with 311 for unsanitary conditions such as smells, improper disposal of waste, etc. They actually send an inspector around to investigate We’ve had success with this approach as it also gives you a paper trail. Good luck.