Ever wonder how that frisky pug got the penthouse window seat in a "pet-free" building? Or how that tabby from 4C manages to saunter down the hall like he owns the place? Thanks to New York City's "pet law," many co-op and condo owners have found a way to keep a pet or two despite their building's otherwise anti-pet policy.
Established in 1983, the law was originally created in response to disputes arising between landlords and rental tenants. In these cases, landlords who had looked the other way for years when it came to their tenants' cats and dogs were suddenly evicting these same people for breaking no-pets rules. As one might expect, these evictions were happening as the housing market grew tight and apartments became more valuable. In short, the evictions were likely taking place simply to free up space that could be rented for more money. In an effort to stem these types of evictions, the New York City pet law was passed.
With those circumstances in mind, it's easy to see how the law developed into its present form. In basic terms, the New York City pet law states that residents living in buildings with more than three units may keep a pet in a no-pet building if that animal has been kept "openly and notoriously" for three months or more.
Unfortunately, "open and notorious" is not nearly as scintillating as it sounds. It simply means that if you live in a building and own a dog, the porter need only see your dog once and fail to report it for the law to kick into effect. Even if a board member sees it four months later, it won't count because another building employee - the porter - already knows of its existence. "It doesn't have to be so open and notorious," says attorney Doug Heller of the Manhattan law firm of Friedman Krauss & Zlotolow. "Someone just has to see it."
Manhattan-based attorney Karen Copeland says some interpretations are even looser, especially in the case of animals that don't usually leave the premises, such as cats or small, litter-trained dogs. With a cat, it's difficult to argue that someone must have seen it because it gets walked through the lobby every day. It's a very rare cat that ever leaves its home. This is when some of the more lax interpretations of the law come into play. Simply leaving the food bowls and cat toys out when the superintendent comes to visit the apartment may be enough to meet the "open and notorious" requirement. "Some residents will take snapshots of their cats in the window to prove they're visible from the street," Copeland says.