March 3, 2011 — One in a series of easy Q&A guides to co-op / condo buying, selling and owning.
Q. What are common policies toward residents having pets?
A. Some co-ops and condos allow pets. Others allow certain pets, or set limits on the number of pets. Others allow no pets. Some buildings have no policies, some have informal policies, and some have stringent policies. All of these are legal, subject to federal rules which we'll get into.
In terms of size limit, many co-ops and condos take their cue from the New York City Housing Authority, which limits pets to 40 pounds when fully grown. Policies may also include fines for pet misbehavior, or a cleaning fee if a dog relieves itself in the common areas or on the sidewalk in front of a building, which city laws require the co-op/condo keep clean.
Typically, pet-friendly buildings allow cats, dogs, fish, small caged birds and pet rodents such as hamsters or mice. Turtles may or may not be allowed because of salmonella concerns, and snapping turtles are generally barred.
Q. For co-ops and condos that allow pets, what are typical requirements?
A. Typical co-op/condo pet policies include requiring proof of city licensing and of up-to-date vaccines, and pets having a collar with the name and phone and apartment numbers of the owner.
Some buildings required a signed and notarized document stating that you understand and agree to the co-op/condo pet rules. They may also require having your pet's photo on file.
A building may require a pet "security deposit" that covers cleaning if your pet soils a common area.
Q. What other types of requirements might a co-op or condo have?
A. A building may require that animals be spayed or neutered. The Humane Society of the United States advocates it for pets over six months old, and suggests exceptions be made for pets certified by a vet as being too old or sick for such surgery. In the rare cases of show dogs, which generally aren't sterilized, a board may or may not make an exception based on proof and provided you don't breed dogs in your apartment.
Buildings may require proof of obedience training. They can also specify "pet only" washing machines and dryers for pet owners, who might have allergy-inducing animal fur and dander on their clothes.
Q. Do local municipalities have any say in pet policy?
A. It varies. In New York City, for example, most pet-friendly buildings allow cats, dogs, fish, small caged birds, turtles (except for snapping ones, which are illegal), and pet rodents such as hamsters or mice. But wild animals such as iguanas, ferrets, monkeys and snakes are illegal to keep as pets under New York City Public Health Code 161.01.
Q. Is there a specific New York City law that covers the of the allowable animals?
A. In New York City, the most pertinent statute is Section 27-2009.1 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York — often called "The Pet Law" or "The Three-Month Rule." It applies to rental tenants, co-op shareholders, and (in Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island only, because of a different ruling in the Bronx-Manhattan judicial region) condo owners.
It states that if a lease (including a co-op proprietary lease) or a condo's bylaws has a no-pet policy, then the landlord or the board has 90 days to file an objection to anyone housing a pet "openly and notoriously" – the latter term being legalese for, basically, "taking your dog out and walking it." A pet owner isn't required to take the pet outside the apartment, but you also can't hide the pet when, say, a building worker comes to fix the toilet.
The 90-day clock starts ticking when any "agent" of the owner sees the animal. And not just doormen and supers — the 2000 decision in Seward Park Housing Corp. vs. Cohen specified that this even includes independent contractors that a building may hire for just one day, say, to lay new carpets. After those 90 days are up, the pet is legally entitled to stay. You may, however, suffer the opprobrium of neighbors who bought into a no-pet building — who might may have allergies or other reasons to want to live in a no-pet building — and acting in disdain of that is not neighborly.
Thinking of buying a co-op or condo? Already bought, and not sure how co-op/condo life and rules work? Learn all about purchasing a place and living in your new community. It's not like renting, and its not like owning a house. What's it like?