Our co-op building allows pets, but shareholders recently received an email that says dogs are no longer allowed in the backyard, a small, fenced grassy area that is not being used at all. I think the board is being unfair, especially since this was not voted on by shareholders. Is there anything we can do to reverse this unwritten house rule?
If you can get other shareholders on your side, you could force a vote on this issue, our experts say.
Boards are entitled to make changes to a building's pet policy without a shareholder vote, as long as they abide by laws for emotional support and service animals. This is because co-op boards are protected by the "business judgment rule," which states that if boards establish rules for their buildings that are in good faith and in the best interests of shareholders, courts will not interfere, even if shareholders don't agree.
Keep in mind, too, that this new ban on dogs in the yard may be a result of neighbor complaints.
"I imagine that banning of dogs from the backyard is a result of someone, perhaps more than one person, being disturbed by a dog barking or noise in general. In public spaces, it is not uncommon to have rules such as this," says Deanna Kory, a broker at Corcoran. "Generally boards will go with rules that do not negatively impact shareholders. Noise and commotion outside an apartment can be very disturbing, especially if people are working at home or trying to nap."
Ask around and find out if your neighbors prefer dogs be kept out of the yard or if they want shareholders' dogs to have use of that space. It may be that others are bothered by this change to the pet policy, in which case you could address the issue as a group.
"The resident could poll his or her neighbors on the issue and have a petition signed by agreeable neighbors, which when presented to the board may help to convince them to change the rule," says attorney Jeffrey Reich, a partner at Schwartz Sladkus Reich Greenberg Atlas. "If not, the resident should vote for a board candidate who supports his or her position—the power of the vote."
If you can't get neighbors on board with your plan, though, you may be stuck with this new policy—in which case, you may want to look into your nearest parks and dog runs so your pet can get some exercise.
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