Q. My dog nipped a neighbor's son in the elevator. It was nothing serious--did not even break the skin--and in fairness to my dog (who has never bitten anyone before) the boy reached down and yanked my dog's ear first.
The child's mother predictably overreacted and is demanding that I muzzle my dog in the elevator or take the service elevator. She said she'll take it to the property manager and the board if I don't.
What are my rights?
A. While your neighbor can't compel you to muzzle your dog, your board can, and you are likely to find an even less sympathetic audience there, say our experts.
"Boards have been sued over dog bites and as such may have little tolerance for the distinction between nips and bites especially with regard to children," says Roberta Axelrod, a real estate broker and asset manager with Time Equities who sits on many boards as a sponsor's representative.
In fact, says Thomas Usztoke of Douglas Elliman Property Management, many buildings that allow pets require dogs to ride the service elevator, if there is one, and may require muzzles in some circumstances.
To nip your problem in the bud, suggests Axelrod, try telling your neighbor that you will not ride in the elevator with her child again and see if she will accept this compromise.
In addition, avoid letting any children touch your dog to avoid future problems--which, incidentally, can be expensive.
"If your dog bites someone, you will typically be sued even if, as in this case, it was a child who was bothering your dog," says apartment insurance broker Jeff Schneider of Gotham Brokerage. "This is one of most common lawsuit situations covered by apartment insurance, with an average claim size of around $10,000, although some insurers won't cover you if your breed of dog has a reputation for being difficult."
Other tips for dog owners who want to keep the peace in their building: If you're waiting for an elevator, ask those already on board if they mind you bringing the dog into the elevator, suggests Usztoke, or simply wait for the next one if the elevator is occupied.
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