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Can You Evict a Tenant for Having a Pet?

February 23, 2018 Posted in Landlord/Tenant Law

In New York, landlords are entitled to include a no-pet clause in the lease agreement that prohibits the tenant from keeping a pet in the unit (and in the larger development, generally).  It is often the case, however, that tenants attempt to hide their ownership of a pet or otherwise violate the contract — perhaps in the hopes that the landlord will simply resign themselves to the presence of the pet.

New York law gives you — the landlord — a right of action against the tenant if they keep a pet on the property without your consent (i.e., in violation of the no-pet clause).  If the tenant engages in such a violation, you may take the issue to housing court and either compel the tenant to give their pet away to a different home or accept eviction.

There are, however, exceptional circumstances that may allow the tenant to fight back against your limitation, so it’s important to have them in mind as you proceed with the landlord-tenant dispute process.

Consider the following.

No-Pet Clauses Can Be Overridden

In New York, tenant in certain qualifying buildings (i.e., those with at least three units, and coops and condos in specific municipalities) may be exempted from application of the no-pet clause if they can show the following:

  1. That the landlord (or an agent thereof) knew or reasonably should have known about the presence of the pet from at least three months; and
  2. That the landlord failed to bring an action against the tenant in housing court regarding their ownership of the pet.

For example, if your tenant keeps a pet openly — perhaps they take it out-and-about, walk it around the common areas, etc. — then you must bring a case against the tenant in a timely manner (within three months of becoming aware of this pet arrangement).  Failure to do so will constitute a “waiver” of your no-pet clause, thus giving the tenant a right to keep their pet on the property.

You cannot argue that you did not know about the presence of a pet if there is evidence that reasonably supports such an inference.  For example, if you hear a dog barking through the tenant’s door on a regular basis, then the court may fairly assume that you knew (or reasonably should have known) about the presence of the dog.

Emotional Support Animals

As the landlord, you must make reasonable accommodations to those who have a disability that qualifies them for an emotional support animal — this requirement overrides the no-pet clause that may be in your leasing agreement.  In many cases, however, a tenant may attempt to reclassify their pet as an emotional support animal in order to skirt the restriction implemented in the leasing agreement.

You can get around the emotional support animal qualification issue by proving that the tenant is not actually disabled (such that an emotional support animal is necessary or beneficial), or by proving that the tenant’s emotional support animal is fundamentally unreasonable.  For example, if a tenant were to argue that they should be allowed to keep an endangered pet as an emotional support animal, that would likely be unreasonable (due to it being a legal violation).

Creation of a Pet Nuisance

Even if the tenant has an emotional support animal, or the circumstances are such that you have effectively waived your no-pet clause, you are entitled to compel a tenant to give up their pet (or be evicted) in situations where the animal is a nuisance.  Whether an animal is a nuisance depends on if they interfere with others’ safety and comfort.  For example, if the tenant’s dog is poorly trained and is urinating and defecating in the common areas, then that will suffice as a nuisance giving you a right to evict the tenant (or to compel them to give up the pet to someone else).

Request a Consultation with an Attorney Experienced in New York Landlord Tenant Law

If you are a landlord in New York and have a problem with a tenant’s pet ownership (as it is in violation of your applicable no-pet clause, or for some other reason), then you may be entitled to evict that tenant, though your ability to do so will be somewhat limited depending on the circumstances surrounding their ownership.

Here at Griffin Alexander, P.C., we have extensive experience handling a range of disputes involving complicated questions of New York landlord tenant law, including pet ownership concerns.  Our attorneys engage with clients early on to develop effective strategies for securing a favorable resolution to the dispute at-issue.

Ready to learn more about how we can help?  Call (212) 867-6069 or request an appointment online to consult with one of our qualified attorneys today.  We look forward to hearing from you.

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