Pet peeve. In 2017, the co-op at 79 W. 12th St. found itself in a literal dogfight. The board claimed a longtime shareholder, Erica Stein, had violated her proprietary lease by keeping eight dogs in her apartment without the board’s knowledge. Stein, they alleged, had “notoriously” tried to conceal the canines by walking only three at a time or by hiding some of them inside a dog stroller. Despite complaints from residents about barking and odors, the board did not file a nuisance claim but sued to have five of the dogs removed.
Support system. Stein asked for dismissal, saying she had been diagnosed with generalized anxiety and depression and that all eight animals — which had been recommended by her psychiatrist — should be allowed as a reasonable accommodation for her disability. The board, she argued, had waived its right to object to her pets by not trying to remove them within 90 days after she acquired each one. And when the co-op revised its house rules in 2005 and 2010, she added, neither version contained a pet-consent requirement.
Leash laws. In November 2020, the State Supreme Court denied Stein’s request for dismissal and referred the case to trial. “So basically, everything is back to square one, and while it’s hard to predict the outcome, the board could lose,” says Robert Braverman, a partner at the law firm Braverman Greenspun. When it comes to allowing an accommodation such as dogs, he adds, boards need to proceed carefully. “The bar is a low one, because under New York law, if someone has that magic letter from a licensed healthcare provider, they satisfy the initial burden.” Boards that question the credibility of such letters, he warns, are playing with fire. “If a person files a lawsuit and there’s a finding of discriminatory conduct, you could be liable.”
Paper chase. As for the house rules, “there does seem to be some ambiguity with the documents,” Braverman says. “If the 2010 rules omitted the pet-consent clause but the 2005 cover letter suggested that the original rules with the provision still applied, that was very confusing. You have to be careful that any changes or adjustments don’t contradict other existing rules.”
Bottom line. Boards need to remain vigilant about what pets are being brought into the building — and approach residents as soon they catch any whiff of trouble before things spiral out of control. “If the board knew this woman had just three dogs, they were being generous,” says Braverman. Eight, however, is more than enough, “and at that point the board didn’t have much choice other than litigation. In this case, they ran into a buzz saw — and that’s a risk no one can afford.”