Even as condos and co-ops around the Northeast have loosened pet restrictions to increase marketability during the recession, only a limited segment of New York City buildings have jumped on the bandwagon.
Co-ops, most of which do not have strong marketing concerns, have continued to ban or place heavy restrictions on animals (principally dogs) out of concerns over nuisance barking, property damage and dog bites.
This is in contrast with condos, where pet policies are developing along two diverging paths. Newer condos, which need to appeal to a wide segment of buyers, have generally thrown out the welcome mat for dogs. But in some older condos, tighter controls on animals have been put in place within the past year, according to Linda Cohen Wassong, a realtor at The Corcoran Group in Manhattan, who specializes in finding housing for pet owners. “In the past, condos had always been friendly to pets, except if you were renting. But now there are restrictions at some of them,” she says.
More Dogs Than Ever
While some buildings are putting dogs on a tighter leash, a combination of market forces and sheer doggy demographics are working against the restrictions, says Bob Marino, president of the New York Council of Dog Owner Groups (NYCdog).
Compared to five years ago, says Marino, “[Dog ownership] has gone up tremendously. We now have 1.4 million dogs in New York City. What has happened that as emerging areas get wealthier—like Long Island City, to name one example—dog ownership has exploded. We have a dog owner group in Long Island City and it’s at 500 members.”
As dog ownership has increased, new developments, particularly condos, have become more dog-friendly for economic reasons, he says. “Landlords realize that dogs are not causing the physical damage that a lot of people said they were. A dog walking in a carpeted hallway causes no more damage than the parent with a baby carriage—probably less damage. And dogs, except when they're very old, rarely urinate or defecate in a hallway or lobby area. Landlords also realize that not only are you getting more prospective renters and buyers with relaxed pet rules, but you can charge them more money for rent. You charge them a $30 a month fee.”
A watershed event in dog acceptance happened in 2006, says Marino, when supersized Manhattan development Stuyvesant Town/Peter Cooper Village allowed dogs. “After 50 years [of banning dogs], they allowed dogs in the complex,” he says.
As further proof of the dog acceptance growing, Marino points to the growing number of dog parks and city public parks that have become dog friendly. “Twenty-one years ago, the city built its first dog park in Tompkins Square Park. Today there are around 60 dog parks in New York. To go from one to 60 is phenomenal. It’s exploded under [Mayor Michael R.] Bloomberg.” In addition, he says, “We also have 79 parks that allowed dogs to be off leash during limited hours. So combined, you have roughly 140 parks, and more coming.” Added together, the two have made it possible for people without yards to have dogs while allowing the animals to get proper exercise and socialization, says Marino. “It’s made it better for dog ownership.”
While many newer condos are becoming pet-friendly, Wassong says some older condos are going the other way. “I’m starting to see things that I’ve never seen before in terms of restrictions,” she says. “I’m seeing more [restrictions] about smaller dogs, and when I say smaller, I’m talking 16 pounds and under.” Wassong says she is also seeing restrictions on specific breeds, limits on the overall number of pets, and pets allowed only on a case-by-case basis. The net effect of the new restrictions is that it is more difficult to pair potential purchasers with pet-friendly properties, says Wassong.
On the legal front, dog ownership has also seen mixed results. Last November, an appeals court in New York ruled against a condominium that had tried to kick out a Yorkshire terrier that had been living there before a pet ban was enacted in 2009. The appellate judges ruled that, while the condominium board had voted in favor of the ban, it was not enforceable because it had not been written into the bylaws and approved by 80 percent of the members. The condominium spent $100,000 trying to evict the 3-1/2 pound dog, according to the dog-owner’s attorney.
On the City Council front, there was Intro 13. Commonly known as the “Pets in Housing Bill,” Intro 13 died in committee due to opposition from City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, says Marino. Intro 13 would have provided that once a landlord had waived a no-pet clause and allowed a rental tenant to keep a companion animal or animals in his/her home, the clause would be waived for the duration of the rental tenant’s occupancy—not just for the lifetime of the harbored companion animal(s).
Intro 13 would have expanded the so-called “Pet Law”—otherwise known as Administrative Code of New York City § 27-2009.1 – which provides that once a pet lives openly in a multiple dwelling for three or more months, then any no-pet clause in a lease is considered waived.
In the area of therapy dogs or support dogs, co-ops and condos that don’t allow dogs are taking requests for these more seriously because of the federal Fair Housing Act and New York Civil Rights Article 4-B - § 47, which guarantee rights to disabled people with guide or service dogs.
These dogs are becoming more and more prevalent for use in mental health and wellness. If someone is blind or in a wheelchair, the purpose of their service dog is fairly obvious, but there are many other disabilities covered under the law that are less visible.
“If a person has depression or anxiety and says, ‘I need this dog to live my life normally,’ that’s sort of where it gets tricky,” says Matthew Gaines, an attorney at the Massachusetts-based Marcus, Errico, Emmer & Brooks, PC, a nationally-recognized firm specializing in condo law. “Their disability may not be obvious, and you need to handle [the request] a little more carefully.
“We advise boards to take all requests very seriously,” says Gaines. A condo or co-op board does not want to be on the receiving end of a discrimination suit. “The consequences can be harsh on both a state and federal level.”
That said, there are questions a board can ask. With such requests, a doctor or social worker should fill out a form detailing the individual’s disability, explaining why a companion dog is a necessity, and why other treatment would not be an adequate substitute.
As the benefits of using therapy dogs to help everyone from autistic children to veterans are researched, such requests for waivers are becoming more common. “In the last year or so, it seems like more requests are coming in,” says Gaines.
Boards Set Policy
Regardless of regional or local trends, it is the co-op or the condo board that has the most effect on dog policy at a building. Wassong believes that changing condo boards may be behind some of the newly-enacted pet restrictions at established condos. “I think boards themselves change. New people come onto boards, old people leave. But maybe there’s more people going onto boards that don’t have dogs.”
Marino notes that the process can work in reverse, to bring more dog-friendly policies to buildings. “People that are pro-dog will run for the board, and are getting on the boards more and more.”
Even when pro-pet board candidates lose, they set the stage for pet policies to become a key issue in future elections, Marino says. “So boards are adapting by responding to this issue or getting ousted. And that is happening. It usually doesn't happen that you have all pro-dog versus all against dog, but once you get one or two people on the board who can speak up for the dogs, the rest will respond in a responsible manner.”
Jim Douglass is managing editor of New England Condominium, a Yale Robbins’ publication. Additional research/writing by freelance writer Yvonne Zipp.