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My co-op is changing its rules about pets. I'm a dog owner. What can I do?

New York City's pet law allows owners to keep their dogs if they've been in the apartment for more than 90 days without a board taking steps to remove them.

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Question:

My co-op's management sent out a notice stating that starting immediately, they will fine residents seen publicly with dogs $1,000. We've had our dog for over a year, have been walking him daily in plain sight, and are knowledgeable about the New York City's 90-day pet law. Is this something they can enforce? Will we have to pay fines?

Answer:

Under New York City's pet law, you should be protected from that hefty fine, according to our experts. The law states that if a landlord or management discovers a resident is keeping a pet in violation of the building's rules, they must begin proceedings against that resident within 90 days. This applies to both tenants and co-op residents, and to condo residents outside Manhattan or the Bronx.

"If a dog has been in the apartment for more than 90 days without the board commencing an eviction proceeding over its unauthorized presence, the dog and its owner are protected by the New York City Pet Law. The mere presence of the dog is no longer deemed a violation of the proprietary lease that the board can take legal action against, absent the dog creating conditions that do violate the lease, like excessive noise, soiling of public areas, and biting," says Aaron Shmulewitz, an attorney with Belkin Burden Wenig & Goldman, LLP.  

Since you've been keeping your dog "openly and notoriously," that is, in view of management, for more than 90 days, and no one has initiated proceedings against you, your co-op's pet rules are considered waived, and the board can't fine you. Furthermore, Shmulewitz adds, the language of your co-op's new pet policy seems questionable from a legal standpoint.

"A $1,000 fine per public sighting seems so excessive as to be unreasonable and, thus, unenforceable in its own right. It’s also vague—what constitutes a 'sighting'?" he says. "Is taking the dog out for a walk one sighting, or two? What if several people see the dog and its owner—is that one sighting, or several?"

That said, you could take some steps to avoid conflict with management or neighbors who are less than thrilled about having dogs in the building.

"Some buildings require that dogs be taken up and down in the service elevator. This gives owners who don’t want to interact with a dog the ability to ride consistently dog-free," says Deanna Kory, a broker with Corcoran. "Sometimes pet rules are enacted because of one bad pet, and if so, that is a shame. I do believe that, especially in the interim, there are other ways to deal effectively with pet owners and their pets."

In a worst-case scenario, where you end up in court over your co-op's pet policy, rest assured that it's likely to go in your favor.

"Most judges generally do not like to enforce fines," Shmulewitz says.


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