Dog Adoption Falls Through Due To NYC Pet Law
Bella, the smaller of the two dogs posing in the accompanying photograph taken at Pampered Poodle Palace, 43-20 Broadway, Astoria, was set to join her new owner, a retired crossing guard, named Pat, until Pat began to worry about how her landlord would feel about another dog in her apartment. Pat had shared her home with a dog, but her first pet died shortly after her husband died from cancer. “I had to give Bella back to the friend who gave her to me because I was afraid my landlord would evict me if I had another dog in my apartment,” Pat said.
The city pet law, enacted in 1983, provides that where a tenant in a multiple dwelling openly keeps a pet for three months or more with the knowledge of the owner or his agent, any no-pet provisions in the lease are considered waived if the landlord takes no action to enforce them within those three months. Until the last few years, courts interpreted this to mean that once the no-pet clause was waived, it was waived for as long as the person lived in the apartment. That meant a tenant could get another pet, without fear of eviction, once the three-month period lapsed for the first pet without action by the landlord.
Starting in 1996, however, the pet law has been interpreted to allow owners the right to enforce no-pet clauses against tenants when they get a new pet, even if the tenant has or had previously kept another animal in the same apartment for more than three months. Pat’s fears are well grounded—tenants whose landlords knew the tenants have had pets for years in the same apartment are not protected when they get a new pet. That interpretation has caused widespread hardship and confusion, as tenants who have had pets for long periods of time naturally assume that they can get another pet after one dies.
Rent-stabilized tenants who have lived in their apartments for many years usually pay considerably less rent than their new neighbors. According to activists for animals and for tenants’ rights, it is, therefore, profitable for landlords to get these tenants out. The no-pet clause is a vehicle to attempt to do that.
Numerous studies indicate that pets can be beneficial to the physical and emotional well being of their human guardians. According to a 2001 Mayo Clinic report, people with pets are more active and less likely to be depressed than their peers without pets. Pets have also been shown to lower cholesterol and blood pressure, thus reducing the risk of heart disease. The importance of the human-animal bond was recognized by Congress when it enacted a law allowing residents of public housing developments to have pets.
Also, more than 40,000 dogs and cats are killed at New York City funded animal shelters each year, many because there is a shortage of available homes. No-pet clauses play a part in this tragedy. Fewer people are keeping pets in the city, and many people who are threatened with eviction send their pets to animal shelters.
A bill that would let tenants in buildings with no-pet clauses share their space with another animal after the first dog or cat dies, passed the City Council Housing and Buildings Committee by a vote of 7 to 4 in 2004. The bill, Int. 189-A, was sponsored by Councilmember Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills/Rego Park). It holds that once a landlord waives the no-pet clause in a lease, a tenant can replace a pet that has died or is no longer living in the apartment with another pet. In addition, if the tenant had more than one pet at any one time since July 1995, that tenant can still maintain the same number of animals in an apartment.
“The bill clarifies the existing law,” a spokesperson for Katz said. The spokesperson added that the bill was voted out of committee in December, but was sent back to the Housing and Buildings Committee by Council Speaker Gifford Miller. “It’s unfortunate that while the bill did pass the committee, there was no full council vote,” Katz’ representative said.
More than 1,000 people across the city have called for Int. 189 to become law. The spokesperson said Katz is encouraging every city resident who wants to see the measure become part of the city Administrative Code to call or write Miller, Councilmember Madeline Provenzano, chair of the Housing and Buildings Committee, and their own councilmember to set a hearing date for this bill. Miller can be reached at 212-788-7210; fax 212-788-7207, e-mail, email@example.com; Provenzano at 212-788-7375; fax, 718-518-8443; e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Anyone who does not know their councilmember’s name should go to www.council.info. All councilmembers can be reached by mail at City Hall, New York, N.Y. 10007.
“I hope the bill goes through,” Pat said. “I’m not asking to keep a big German Shepherd, just a little dog like Bella. I have two parakeets now, and they’re nice birds, but you can’t hug a parakeet.”