NYC co-ops going to the dogs

By Teri Karush Rogers | October 27, 2009 - 8:30AM 

These are grim days for co-ops with no-dog policies: New York's housing courts are making it nearly impossible to evict residents who flout bans on dogs.

Buttressed in part by tenant laws favoring pet owners, judges are protecting themselves from an increasingly powerful "pet-rights movement," says Dean M. Roberts, a real estate lawyer at Norris McLaughlin & Marcus, who represents about 100 co-ops and condos in the five boroughs.

"No judge is going to wind up on the cover of the Post for letting someone keep a dog, as opposed to 'Old Lady and Dog Thrown Out on Street by Evil Judge,'" says Roberts, who writes about enforcement woes in the November Habitat Magazine. "The trend in the decisions, especially at the trial level, is to find a way not to enforce the rules."

That means co-op dwellers who claim their pooches are “emotional support" pets are nearly always allowed to keep them.

A simple doctor’s note explaining that the pet helps relieve anxiety is usually enough to trigger the protection of Fair Housing laws, which require co-op boards to make reasonable accommodations for medical necessity.

“Those cases are sure-fire losers if the New York City Commission of Human Rights pursues a discrimination claim against the building,” says real estate attorney and BrickTank expert Steven Sladkus. 

Sladkus says it usually only makes sense for a board to push back if the dog in question is a dangerous breed, will cause problems to others in the building or might trigger an avalanche of unsubstantiated requests.

In an increasingly pro-dog world, many co-ops are resigning themselves to regulating four-legged residents  (breeds, size, elevator access etc) instead of banning them. Some are also charging controversial fees for the privilege of harboring a canine…a doggie tax, if you will.

"The amounts are all over the map," says Roberts. "It depends on the demographic of the building and what their perceived or actual costs really are.  Some have large annual fees like $100 or $500.  Others have monthly fees as high as $50-80."

While the tariff is supposed to pay for things like extra vacuuming of the hallways, says Roberts, "it's probably intended more as a deterrence."

So what's going on in condos with regard to four-legged friends?

"It very rarely comes up because they tend to have more liberal rules," says Roberts.

An interesting sociological sidenote:  The most ardent supporters of no-dog policies are frequently parents of young children, says Roberts.

"Then they have an excuse not to get a dog," he explains.

Related link:

UES family surgically debarks dog for co-op

Why all co-ops should allow dogs (sponsored)

Petiquette 101: Apartment manners for your dog


Shut yer dog: How far can a board go?

My building doesn't allow dogs. What do I do?

What if my puppy gets too big for my board?


Buyer of combined apartments allowed to bring an extra dog

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