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Spring 2005 - Act•ionLine

by Sandra Lewis | Spring 2005

New York City Pet Law On Hold

New York City’s pet law, enacted in 1983, provides that where a tenant in a multiple dwelling “openly and notoriously harbors” a pet for three months or more with the knowledge of the owner or agent, no-pet provisions in the lease are considered waived if the landlord doesn’t take action to enforce them within those three months.

According to the New York Bar Association’s Committee on Legal Issues Pertaining to Animals:

‘Notorious’ does not mean that your pet is an outlaw. As with much legal jargon, the words ‘open’ and ‘notorious’ seem to have evolved together in the law. The words are generally intended to mean visible and apparent, i.e., not hidden. In interpreting the Pet Law, most judges have tried to determine simply whether or not the pet was hidden in any active way.1

Until the last few years, the courts interpreted the law to mean that once the no-pet clause was waived, it was waived for the duration of the person’s tenancy in the apartment. Thus, 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.

The purpose of the original law was to prevent hardship and the dislocation of tenants. The pet law has been interpreted, however, to allow landlords the right to enforce no-pet clauses against tenants when they bring new animals in — even if the tenant has or had previously kept another animal in the same apartment for more than three months.

Moreover, when tenants who have lived in their rent-controlled or -stabilized apartments for many years usually pay considerably less rent than their new neighbors, it becomes profitable for landlords to evict long-time tenants. The no-pet clause might be seized upon as a convenient way to accomplish that.

More than 30,000 dogs and cats are killed in New York City pounds each year — often simply because there is a shortage of available homes. No-pet clauses play a part in this tragedy.

For a study conducted by the National Council on Pet Population Study and Policy and published in the Journal of Applied Animal Welfare Science,2 researchers visited 12 selected pounds in the United States over the course of a year, to find out why people relinquish their pets. Specially trained researchers completed confidential, individual interviews with pet owners who were abandoning their dogs or cats. The results of the study show that the most frequent reasons for relinquishment included relocation and building owners’ no-pet rules.

Some residents hope that a bill now before the City Council would change all that.

The bill, which 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’s Housing and Buildings Committee by a vote of 7-4. The bill, called Int. 189-A, was sponsored by Councilmember Melinda Katz.3 Once a landlord waives the no-pet clause in a lease, says the bill, the tenant can replace a pet who 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, such tenant can still maintain the same number of animals in the apartment.

Councilmember Katz says, “When Int.-189 is passed, the measure will ensure that tenants receive immunity for the life of their tenancy, not for the life of their first pet.” The bill has wide popular support; yet the real estate industry and some members of the Council remain opposed. The Housing and Buildings Committee had been expected to vote the bill out of committee and send it to the full Council on December 15, at which time the Council was scheduled to pass the bill. Instead, the committee decided to hold the bill for further consideration in 2005.

And while the Mayor’s Alliance For New York City Animals supports the “Adoptathons” in city parks, where people are urged to adopt homeless animals, the mayor has not, at the time of this writing, indicated support for the new bill.

  • 1. “Keeping Spot and Fluffy Home: Pets In New York City Housing,” available electronically at http://www.abcny.org/pethouse.html. To obtain paper copies of the brochure, please write to: Association of the Bar, attn. “Keeping Spot and Fluffy Home,” 42 West 44th Street, New York, NY 10036. Please include a self-addressed, stamped envelope. The description of the law in this article is not offered as legal advice and should not be relied upon for particular matters without the independent advice of an attorney. If you live in the state of New York, and need help with a related issue, the Committee invites people to contact the Legal Referral Service of the Association of the Bar of the City of New York and the New York County Lawyers’ Association or your local bar association.
  • 2. Dr. John C. New, et.al., “Moving: Relinquishing Animals,” Journal of Applied Welfare Science 2 (2), 83-96.
  • 3. Councilmember Melinda Katz can be reached at 212.788.6981, or electronically at katz@council.nyc.ny.us.
Sandra Lewis

Act•ionLine Spring 2005

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