Okay, you have a dog or a cat or you plan to get one (or two–friends are great). That’s great! Life in New York is better with pets. Now how does that complicate your apartment renting experience?
Pet Friendly Buildings – Check Your Lease
Okay, so you found a building that you have been told is pet friendly and you’re ready to sign the lease. MAKE SURE YOU READ THE LEASE. Landlords often use generic leases and some of these have “no pets” written into them. The landlord might not even have noticed this because he (or an assistant) just printed a bunch f standard leases off the Internet without really looking at them. If you see that the lease says “no pets,” point it out, cross it out, and get the landlord to initial it. Better yet, get a pet rider added to your lease. Why is this important? Your current landlord might be okay with pets, but what if the building is sold? The new landlord might not want to have a pet friendly building, or might be looking for ways to get out current tenants so they can renovate your apartment and then rent it out at a higher rate. When the building is sold, the new landlord has to abide by the terms of the leases of the previous landlord. The new owners CANNOT tell you, “This is now a no pet building, either get rid of your pet or get out.” They also can’t start charging you a “pet fee” if your previous lease did not include one. (And for heaven’s sake, make sure you keep copies of your leases!!)
“No Pet” Buildings and the Three Month Law
Now what if you moved into a building that you were told was a no pet building, but you notice that other tenants have dogs or cats? This happened to me. I moved into a no pet building, but then realized that there were clearly a number of dogs in the building–at one count nine dogs in a twenty-four apartment building. The super’s family even had a dog. After a few years of staring longingly at my neighbors’ dogs (my roommate was allergic to cats, so that was out), I wondered why I couldn’t get one too. Luckily I happened to be working with someone who knew a lot about having a pet in New York, and he told me about the “The Three-Month Law” or “Pet Law.”
Officially known as ” Section 27-2009.1 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York,” (read the whole legalese here), this law essentially states that if your landlord or an agent of your landlord (the building super, a doorman, a plumber who comes to fix something in your apartment, etc.) sees that you are “openly and notoriously” (that is, not hiding) keeping a pet, he or she has ninety days to lodge a complaint. If the landlord does not file a complaint within those ninety days, you can keep your pet, free and clear.
In order to protect yourself, start accumulating evidence that you are “openly and notoriously” keeping a pet as soon as you adopt your dog or cat. Adoption papers and vet records are a good start, but photographs can really help you out. Put your dog or cat (though really, no one should have any problems with a cat in an apartment–why wouldn’t a landlord want to have help scaring off rodents?) in open and notorious situations, like on your building’s front steps, in front of your apartment door, with neighbors, and photograph him or her. The date stamped photos will provide bullet proof evidence that you are not hiding your pet and that you made it through the ninety days without any complaint.
(Of course this is all with the understanding that your pet is well-behaved and not causing a problem with your neighbors. If your dog is anxious and tries to bite people in the elevator, you have a problem. If your dog barks all day while your at work, you have a problem. If you are hoarding thirty cats and the smell is seeping into the hallways or the apartment next door, well, you have a lot of problems. Be a responsible pet owner and make sure your pet is a good neighbor.)
- I will remind you again that the best thing to do is find a pet friendly building. They are out there and I haven’t noticed any difference in the rental rates between no pet and pet friendly buildings. If you have a broker who says that it’s too hard to find a pet friendly building or that there are “hardly any in New York,” find a different broker who understands how important your current or future pet is to you.
- Don’t let a landlord evict you or try to make you get rid of your pet if you believe you are keeping your pet legally. Just google “NYC pet lawyers” and you’ll find help. Even if you think you can’t afford to hire a high-powered lawyer to take your landlord to court, you still may be able to find someone who will help you. I’ve found that the lawyers who specialize in this area are very willing to help in any way they can, even if it’s just tipping you off to the finer points of a law that might be enough to make your landlord back down.
- And finally–If you do decide to go the route of bringing a pet into a building that isn’t “officially” pet friendly, then I am begging you with all my heart to please make sure you have a back up plan in case you can’t get your pet through the ninety days. When I decided to take that risk in my first apartment building, I did it with the knowledge that my parents would let my dog or me and my dog live with them until I found a new apartment that would allow me to have her. Please don’t put yourself in a situation where you may have to bring your dog or cat to a shelter. It is sad to see any dog or cat in a shelter; it is twenty times as sad when you look at them and know they have memories of a home where they were loved and don’t understand why they are no longer there.