HABITAT

KITTIES 'N' CANINES

Kitties 'n' Canines

 

dog

There are one million dogs in the naked city, according to The New York Times. Or maybe two million, according to animal advocates. Or, per the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, just 500,000 with only about one in five of licensed. Any way you look at it, that's a lot of doggies in the window and hundreds of thousands of irresponsible owners, making pet policies prudent.

Some co-ops and condos allow pets. Others allow certain pets, or specific limits on the number of pets. Others allow no pets. Some buildings have no policies, some have informal policies, and some have a regular handbook of rules. All of these are legal, subject to federal rules we'll get into below.

Pet owners themselves are torn over the issue of pet policies. One cat-owning Manhattanite who sublets her co-op, speaking anonymously since her cooperative allows pets, says, "I have a no-dog policy that I'm deeply ambivalent about, because I love animals and, in fact, I'd [successfully] begged to have the 'no-pet' rider taken out of my rental lease when I first moved in," before the building went co-op. "But I also want to protect my investment. I've seen in other people's apartments the damaged floors, the clawed walls, and the unhappy neighbors who complain because the dog next door barks all day when it's left alone."

That doesn't happen in every dog-lover's apartment, of course. Even so, she says, pet policy "is one of those terrible issues where nobody can be painted the bad guy, because there are perfectly reasonable concerns on both sides of the argument. And the board gets stuck in the middle."

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. Wild animals such as iguanas, ferrets, monkeys and snakes are illegal to keep as pets under New York City Public Health Code 161.01. (You see the remarkably detailed and fascinating list here .)

Law-di-dog

What are your legal rights regarding pets? 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 just 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. And after those 90 days are up, the pet is legally entitled to stay.

The other major legal point is not, as some suppose, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act — that only applies to such "public accommodations" as businesses, schools, recreation areas, etc. The pertinent thing here is the Federal Fair Housing Act and its state and local analogues. Under this, co-ops, condos and other residential buildings  have to allow guide dogs for the blind or the deaf — and the same allowance is required for psychiatric service dogs. These are animals that assist people with mental disabilities such as a major depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress, autism, anxiety disorders, and schizophrenia, by performing such tasks as interrupting repetitive or dangerous behaviors, providing a brace when the sufferer appears dizzy, or even barking to alert neighbors if the sufferer passes out.

Next page: What boards CAN require >>

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