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Living With Pets, Like It or Not

Apr 02, 2021

Geoffrey Mazel, Hankin & Mazel

Many co-ops and condos have no-pet policies, yet many pets live in these buildings due to reasonable accommodation rights. For boards, this is about coming to grips with what’s going on today. So if no-pet buildings can have pets, what's the point of a no-pet policy?
Limiting the number of pets might be a consideration. So if the building is no pet, and new people who move in aren’t allowed to have them, you're going to control to some extent the number of pets that will be living in the building, which is sort of the spirit of the no-pet rule. Again, many co-ops that have no-pet rules have had them 20, 30, 40 years, and it's been effective until the last, let's say 10 years.
Can you just give us a brief overview of why no-pet policies may not be as effective as they were a decade ago?
Well, because the laws and administrative rulings are gradually going towards broader reasonable accommodations. For example, if somebody told you 15 years ago that allowing a pet is a reasonable accommodation, you would never have heard of it, and probably thought it was absurd. But now, it's been firmly established that having a comfort animal is therapeutic for people with certain illnesses and certain disabilities. It's become pretty much a mainstream issue in human-rights complaints.
The law has developed to such a point where you have two competing factors: you have the no-pet rule, and then you have the reasonable accommodation requirements. Since the reasonable accommodation clearly trumps a co-op's no-pet rule, there's been a huge chink in the armor of your no-pet rule, but it still exists if you don't need the accommodation.
Should buildings who are clinging to their no-pet rule create policies for those pets that do get in through reasonable-accommodation requests?
You not only could, you should. The answer is absolutely yes, but boards should be careful when drafting them, because they also will come under scrutiny if you ever have a human-rights complaint. I call it a policy for comfort pets, so it’s a specific category. You don't just say for pets, because that would imply that all pets are allowed. Usually you'll ask for things like registration of the pet, proof of vaccines, proof of insurance, and just general rules like curb your dog, leash your dog, no excessive barking, things like that. Then you would promulgate that to anybody who is requesting a comfort dog or a comfort pet, and anybody who has that comfort pet.
If the rules are broken, what does the board do?
The pet rules are technically a house rule, so breaking them would usually be considered a proprietary lease violation. You can begin proceedings based on that, and it's been done. Usually it's the other way, where the dog owner will challenge the rules, depending on how onerous they are. I've actually seen that litigated. So these rules do have to be crafted with care and consideration, because they will be scrutinized.
I understand that emotional support pets have certainly gained traction — you see them in restaurants, on airplanes and many other places. But if I moved into a no-pet building and I have a trauma around pets or I'm allergic to them, do I have any rights?
That's a good question. Let's break it down. If you just don't like pets and that's why you moved into a no-pet building, the pets are coming no matter what. But if the dog is a nuisance or is jumping on people, the co-op does have a right to bring proceedings, since that is not allowed and you have rights there. The tricky part is if you have a disability, or need an accommodation in the form of not being around any pets. I get asked that a lot, and have been doing this a lot of years, and I haven't had that situation yet. So as soon as I do or see it in any decisions, I'll let you know, because it's sort of competing reasonable accommodations.

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