A condo board on the Upper West Side announced that it will fine residents — unit-owners and rent-stabilized tenants alike — if they fail to follow a new rule requiring dog owners to use the service elevator, carry their dogs while in the elevator, and enter and exit the building through the service entrance. Are such rules and fines legal?
This is the kind of rule that is not uniformly enforceable, replies the Ask Real Estate column in The New York Times, and it could be challenged by some of the residents. First, the board may run into opposition from anyone whose dog is an emotional-support animal, because the city’s Human Rights Law gives those owners substantial rights. People with emotional-support pets are entitled to equal use and enjoyment of their homes.
“They can’t be forced to take a service elevator, or go out some other entrance, particularly if that other entrance is, say, out the back, or in a less safe place, or through the basement,” says Darryl Vernon, a real estate lawyer who represents people with companion animals.
A resident with a disability could challenge the rule under federal, state and local disability laws. Someone with mobility issues or back problems, for example, might not be able to carry a pet on the elevator, or may worry about tripping hazards. That resident could request a reasonable accommodation, such as using the lobby and the passenger elevator.
Rent-stabilized tenants also have protections, and are not governed by condo rules. Instead, they are governed by the terms of their lease and stabilization laws, meaning management cannot enforce house rules on them. Beyond that, the Tenant Protection Act forbids landlords from charging rent-stabilized tenants more than their rent, making it likely that these fines are unenforceable. If the original stabilized lease does not include a rule about walking dogs out the back door or using the service elevator for them, the rule cannot be added later. “This very well adds up to unlawful and actionable harassment by this landlord,” Vernon says.
The landlord could, however, enforce the rule for market-rate tenants and unit-owners without any disability claims. Unit-owners are subject to the house rules, which the board has the power to change. And a market-rate lease might include terms that require the tenant to follow the rules of the condo.
However, since so many tenants may be entitled to a pass, management might have a hard time enforcing fines sporadically. In its effort to regulate dogs, this condo board has opened a can of worms.
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