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PET POLICIES

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Pet Policies

Nov 18, 2019

With dogs allowed practically everywhere, is it even possible for co-ops to ban them anymore? Habitat asks Dean Roberts, member and group leader, NY real estate at Norris McLaughlin, his advice.

People can find themselves seated next to a dog when flying in an airplane, or when they eat in a restaurant. With dogs allowed practically everywhere now, is it even possible for co-ops to ban them anymore?

It’s certainly a dilemma many co-ops face. And the fact is, the chances of keeping dogs out of a building these days are minuscule to nonexistent.

Why is that?

Historically, there used to be a standard provision in every proprietary lease or occupancy agreement saying you weren’t allowed to have dogs in the building. Shareholders could get around that with the New York City Pet Law, which specified that if a dog has been in the apartment for 90 days without the board acting to evict it, the animal is grandfathered in and can stay. Now, it seems more and more co-ops are becoming pet-friendly.

What’s behind the change in attitude?

Partly, it’s a generational shift where people have become much more dog-friendly in general. With new construction, allowing dogs is perceived as a positive thing in terms of attracting buyers. In this environment, I’ve been telling my co-op clients that they’ll just have to accept that they’re no longer going to be able to fully enforce a no-dog provision.

So why are some boards still trying to enforce it?

A lot of it is driven by the simple fact that people signed a lease that said no dogs. Often, they’re uncomfortable having to share an elevator with a dog, or they’re annoyed by the barking or whatever. The problem is, there are more people now who see their dogs, for all intents and purposes, as a member of the family. The ratio of pro- versus anti-dog people is changing. On top of that, people with service or emotional-support animals have special rights under HUD and the American With Disabilities Act.

How does a co-op board handle the two opposing populations?

It’s a clash that has been coming up a lot. I advise my clients to establish a pet policy with a clear set of rules and regulations – for example, the dog always has to be on a leash when coming in and out of the building and that it can’t create any kind of nuisance, like jumping on people and being too loud.

Still, it seems as if residents who are not anti-dog per se but are genuinely afraid of the dogs don’t have equal rights with dog owners.

I had a case where a former board member got a dog, and when she was called out for it she claimed it was an emotional support animal but couldn’t prove it. She went and got a note saying the dog was for her son, who was dyslexic. I didn’t quite understand how an animal could help him read, but it was explained to me that because the boy was dyslexic, he was unable to form friendships and the dog helped him do that. HUD found that completely credible.

And what about someone opposed having the dog in the building?

There was a woman on the floor, a Holocaust survivor, who was terrified of dogs. She was too nice to file a complaint. When her attorney sent me a letter saying there was an issue, I practically begged them to sue. I very much wanted HUD to take it up and see how they would determine whose rights take priority, but we never got to that point. Of course, there are a lot of people who signed leases with the expectation of being in a dog-free building. Nobody’s brought that complaint yet, but I’m waiting.

What's your takeaway advice be for co-op boards?

I can't give you a simple answer and say, “This solves your problem.” There is no good answer. I have one board in a multi-building property that is considering designating dog and non-dog buildings, but that raises a whole lot of issues, including legal ones. What I do tell boards is to think long and hard about what your community wants and formulate a policy that tries to accommodate everyone's interest.

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