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Cat Owner vs. Co-op Board: No Contest

Lower East Side, Manhattan

Cats & Co-ops
March 19, 2019

Just how powerful are co-op boards? To find an answer, we take you to a co-op on the Lower East Side where a subletter has been renting a ground-floor apartment for the past 13 years. This subletter acquired a free-roaming outdoor cat two and a half years ago. The cat stays indoors in the daytime, but at night he frequently exits through a cat door to explore the building’s rear courtyard. After the cat wandered into the building through other entrances and several residents complained, the co-op board is now threatening to deny renewal of the subletter’s lease unless the cat remains indoors. Can a co-op board deny a lease renewal over a harmless nocturnal cat? 

A market-rate rental tenant in a co-op has limited rights, replies the Ask Real Estate column in the New York Times. Even if the shareholder of the rented apartment has no problem with the nocturnal cat, the co-op board is within its rights to deny the subletter’s lease renewal if the pet violates the building rules.

The co-op’s rules probably prohibit companion animals from roaming around public areas without a leash or some other kind of restraint. While such rules are usually geared toward dogs, “those same rules would prohibit a cat from being loose in any public areas,” says Darryl Vernon, a Manhattan real estate lawyer who frequently represents owners of companion animals. He advises the cat-owning subletter to “keep the cat indoors and take it to the park” on a leash. Otherwise, start looking for a new apartment. 

Which presents the subletter with a question: Is the cat’s need for unfettered outdoor quality time worth forfeiting a home of more than a dozen years? Keep in mind that it might not be easy to find another building that welcomes cats roaming the hallways and lobby at all hours of the night. It might be time to buy a leash.

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