A lot of buildings relaxed their pet policies to attract or retain renters and buyers during the pandemic. However, New Yorkers are finding out there’s a difference between pet friendly on paper and pet friendly IRL. So if you're looking for a new apartment, how do you read between the lines?
In trying to sublet her Upper East Side rental and reach a broad swath of renters that included pet parents, Molly, who wasn't a pet owner (and asked we use a pseudonym) discovered her pet friendly building actually had very restrictive rules on pets: No dogs were allowed in the lobby or in communal areas and dogs could only come and go through a side entrance.
"That might not make sense to some people, if they say it's pet friendly but then there are a lot of places where you can’t have the pet," she says.
Vicki Negron, a broker at Corcoran, says restrictions on lobby access for dogs is “not so pet friendly, if you ask me. More like, 'pet tolerated,' which would not go over well with most pet owners.”
Specific language about pets is always in the lease or a rider to the lease, but it’s best to find out as much as you can about the pet policy ahead of time. This applies if you're renting a place, becoming a shareholder in a co-op or buying a condo. And if the rules seem unreasonable, here are some tips on how to handle them.
Size and breed restrictions
One of the biggest challenges for pet owners, Negron says, is being able to find out whether there are breed and size restrictions in a building that might prevent you from moving forward with a purchase or rental.
Most agents will ask the prospective renter well in advance of a search whether they have a pet.
Negron represents a building in Brooklyn Heights with a strict weight restriction on dogs. However, a renter presented her Bernese Mountain Dog as a puppy and was approved. “Once in residence, there wasn't much the owner could do to get them out as he grew—and grow he did,” Negron says.
Breed policies may not always seem fair. Negron says she has had "incredibly docile and lovable German shepherds and pit bull terriers denied occupancy while snarling, growling, biting Chihuahuas make the grade."
If there are breed restrictions, Nicole Hechter, a broker at Corcoran, recommends having all your paperwork in order. She tells the story of one client who went through all the right channels, asked the managing agent about the rules, and gave the breed information to the co-op board in her application. Then later on, a neighbor who was on the board said they felt the dog was miscategorized and the buyer was asked to provide the foster documentation.
"Make sure everything is buttoned up when you talk about the breed, be forthcoming, and have all your documents in place," Hechter says.
In terms of the consequences for the owner or renter in these situations, you're becoming a part of the community so if you’ve agreed to something you don’t want to start off on the wrong foot, Hechter says.
If the dog creates a nuisance for other tenants or worse, there may be more serious consequences. Arik Lifshitz, CEO of DSA Property Group says, in his experience, "evictions for pet-related incidents are astronomically rare—only in the most egregious of nuisance cases."
Just because a landlord or board allows you to have a dog in your apartment, don't assume they are allowed everywhere else in the building. Hechter knows of buyers on the Upper East Side who were looking forward to having their dogs in their new building's spacious and beautiful courtyard only to find out pets were not permitted there.
"Never assume your dog is allowed in the building's public spaces—more often than not they are not allowed on roof decks or communal areas," she says.
Hechter says it's not just about asking your broker—"go directly to the managing agent, or have your representative go directly to the managing agent" to find out where pets are allowed, she says.
Rose Caiola is the principal of Bettina Equities, a property company that adjusted their pet policy during the pandemic. She says access restrictions are there because they want to be respectful of residents without pets who might not like dogs or be allergic.
"It puts the landlord in a tricky spot," she says. If a dog pees in the lobby or hallway other dogs will want to similarly mark their territory, she says and no one wants that.
In her own condo building Caiola is used to leaving via the service elevator with her dogs and using the side entrance, although she says carrying her 32 pound cocker spaniel through the lobby might not be so easy.
It's reasonable to ask that your dog be leashed in the building or not allowed in communal areas. Rules that are reasonable should be followed, Lifshitz says. But when it comes to putting your dog in a carrier every time you go through the lobby, Lifshitz says, "if the rules are unreasonable, don’t follow them. You may get a dirty look for not following the rules, but you can’t get evicted because you walked your dog out instead of using a carrier."
Discrimination laws require landlords, including condo and co-op boards, to reasonably accommodate emotional support or assistance animals. If the building is a no-pet building that is allowing a service animal, you may be able to come to some agreement that the dog must wear a service or support harness on the property rather than be in a carrier.
Allowing pets became a concession landlords were willing to give renters during the pandemic. Hechter says she had landlords who would never normally take a dog and then decided, if there was a renter who was willing to take the apartment, they'd be lenient about the pet.
That means some buildings are going through a transition period while they adjust to being pet friendly. Caiola says at Bettina Equities there's a move to create space in the basement "where residents can groom or wash the dog and hopefully this will bring some forgiveness of our other strict rules," she says. She's also having to problem solve elsewhere: Residents are throwing poop bags down the compactor chute.
"What we are trying to do is bring in diaper genies as you would for a child so if your dog is paper trained, you'd put that in the diaper genie," she says.
It's helpful if residents know what a landlord is dealing with. "I get it, it's a hassle but there are other people in the building," Caiola says.
Although the balance has tipped back in favor of landlords, and each building is different, Negron says references really count and so do photos of the animals in an application.
"They make for a more familial feel, which can translate to greater or more thoughtful ownership responsibility," she says. Caiola recommends being specific. "Tell your landlord you’ve had the dog for five years and it’s well behaved and they know not to go inside and not to go after another resident," she says.
A landlord—or co-op board—can typically ask what they like when it comes to information about your pet. That includes vaccination history, and details about pet sitters. You might also need additional insurance. Negron says, she has seen owners "ask tenants to include a pet on insurance policies as a bite protection."