A co-op board recently instituted a pet registration policy that requires pet owners to provide their pet's distinguishing features, vaccination history and contact information for veterinarians and pet sitters. Some boards have even been known to demand a stool sample. Are shareholders obligated to provide all this granular detail?
Yes, says the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times. Co-op boards have immense power, including the right to set conditions about companion pets, enact rules about leashing, vaccinations and the collection of basic information. Shareholders should check the co-op's governing documents to see what exists about pet rules. However, even if they don’t find much, they’re going to have a hard time pushing back on this policy. Boards have considerable discretion in their decision-making because of what is known as the Business Judgment Rule, which says the courts will not second-guess boards as long as their decisions are made in good faith and for the betterment of the co-op.
“That discretion is difficult to challenge in court unless the co-op is unlawfully discriminating, or violating some agreement,” says Darryl Vernon, a real estate lawyer who represents people with companion animals.
Boards frequently collect personal information about pets to keep tabs on their comings and goings. They do this to protect pets and people. A dog could be injured, or injure someone else, in a common area of the building when the owner is not present. The dog walker or sitter might not know the name of the vet, or if the dog is up-to-date on its vaccinations. If the building has that information readily available, it could act quickly in an emergency.
Even house cats occasionally escape their apartments and can get into trouble. If a cat is wandering the halls without a collar, management might have an easier time figuring out where it belongs if it knows what the cat looks like – hence the demand for a description of distinguishing characteristics. As for the names of pet sitters, buildings often collect the personal information of regular vendors for security reasons.
“Believe it or not, getting all this kind of information is now becoming common,” says Dan Wurtzel, the president of FirstService Residential New York, a property management firm. “It’s really for the protection and the safety of the residents. It’s not meant to be a pain point for the residents.”
One building that FirstService represents goes so far as to ask for fecal samples from pets – as a way of detecting possible disease. Given the broad power of co-op boards, it’s best for pet owners to get out the scooper and comply with such requests.
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