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Ask An Expert: Handling dog drama in the building's elevator

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Q: Recently, I was riding one of my rental building’s two working elevators, and it was crowded. There were a total of six people in the elevator and two large dogs, then one dog attacked the other. With nowhere to move I ended up with scratches on the back of my leg and now feel fearful when I see two big dogs entering one crowded elevator. What if a small child had been in my place? I checked, and my buildings rules say “small dogs allowed.”  (Neither of these dogs were small.) I filed a report with security and emailed building management, but I have yet to get a response. Should I wait to hear back, or contact a lawyer? I’ve heard of other buildings requiring large dogs to take the service elevator, but our building doesn’t have this kind of rule. What’s a reasonable way for this problem to be resolved?

A: While you likely can't get your neighbor's oversized (and ill-behaved) dogs booted from the building, you can reasonably expect to ride your building's elevator in peace, say our experts

Even if the dogs in question violate your building's mandate for "small" dogs only, it sounds like they've been living there for a while. As we memorably learned when one Harlem woman was allowed to keep her dog after throwing it a birthday party, if a building resident has kept a pet for three months or more in an "open and notorious" manner (i.e. management had plenty of opportunities to find out and act accordingly), it's close to impossible to force them to give it up.

The bigger problem here seems to be your building's inaction, and lack of regulations. As with all tenant gripes, you're more likely to get a response if you band together neighbors to file complaints and request clearer pet rules. And whether you're approaching the management solo or as a group, when it comes to landlord disputes, the medium is the message: Send your complaints again via certified mail instead of email. This way, you get proof that your missive was received, and the landlord knows you're serious. 

(One extra factor to keep in mind: Should you ever find yourself on the flip side of this kind of dispute and your dog —ruffs?—up someone in the building, standard renters insurance will cover you in the event of a lawsuit, says apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage. However, Schneider adds that "some companies will not insure you if you own certain breeds with a reputation for aggression [like pitbulls]," or if your dog has a history of attacks.)

As far as potential solutions, you can, indeed, suggest that your building institute a rule wherein large dogs have to take the service elevator. As we've written previously, some buildings also have rules requiring pets to be on leashes or in carriers in common spaces, and maybe even muzzled. But these kinds of requirements are often the ruling of boards—whose members live in the building have a vested interest in avoiding lawsuits or damage to the building's reputation—and it sounds like your landlord may not be too swift to respond.  Until this is resolved, you may need to avoid trouble the old fashioned way: If you see a dog, wait for the next elevator.


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