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Landlords: If You Snooze on the Dog, You Lose

September 2, 2016 Posted in Landlord/Tenant Law

If a tenant makes no attempt to hide a new pet, and the landlord is aware of the pet but fails to take action for more than three months, has the landlord waived its right to complain about the pet? Yes, says the New York Supreme Court in the case of 149th St., LLC v. Rodriguez: 50 Misc.3d 139(A), 2016 NY Slip Op 50146(U) (App. T. 2 Dept.; 2/5/16).  

The Rodriguez Family Gets a Dog

Limbania Rodriguez decided to get a dog to live with Ms. Rodriguez and her family in the apartment. However, Ms. Rodriguez did not inform the landlord. But she did not try to hide the dog, either. She walked the dog twice a day and had employees of the landlord in the apartment to perform repairs. She even had a conversation with the superintendent about the dog. For more than three months, the dog lived with Ms. Rodriguez with no complaint from the landlord.

The Landlord Objects to the Dog - Finally

Eventually, the landlord got wind of the dog and decided to take action, claiming that Ms. Rodriguez had violated the terms of the lease by harboring the dog without permission from the landlord. The tenant fought back, arguing that the presence of the dog was open and notorious; therefore, the landlord lost its right to complain because it waited more than three months to bring a summary proceeding. The tenant is right.

New York City’s Pet Law

The three-month window is important because that time period is codified in what is commonly known as New York City’s Pet Law or the Three-Month Law. Section 27-2009.1 of the Administrative Code of the City of New York requires that a landlord commence a suit within three months of learning about the presence or when the landlord could reasonably have been expected to have knowledge of the pet. If the landlord fails to bring suit within the three-month period, the no-pet clause is waived and the landlord cannot enforce it.

It is unclear from the court’s decision whether Ms. Rodriguez’s lease prohibits pets outright or whether the lease provided for an application process, deposit and/or registration of the animal. Nevertheless, the opinion is clear that the pet was in residence without authorization, although not without the knowledge of the landlord’s employees.

The Landlord Knows What Its Employees Know

It made little difference to the court whether or not the landlord itself knew of the dog. The mere fact that employees of the landlord who had been in the apartment (and in the case of the superintendent, had actually spoken with the Rodriguez family about the dog) and were well aware that the Rodriguez family had acquired a dog was enough to trigger the three-month period. In this case, the knowledge of the employees was imputed to the landlord.

The Pet Law Applies to Co-ops and Some Condominiums

The Pet Law contains an exception for the New York City Housing Authority. That is, although federal law, which applies to the housing authority, allows pets in federally-assisted projects, the courts have also extended the Pet Law to apply to cooperative apartments.

With regard to condominiums and whether the Pet Law applies, courts are split. That is, the Appellate Division in the Second Department (Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island) has held that the Pet Law covers condominiums, but the First Department (Manhattan and the Bronx) concludes that it does not. Westchester County has also enacted a similar law with a three-month limit.

As the landlord for Ms. Rodriguez discovered, failing to act can have serious and permanent consequences. It is important for landlords to train staff to recognize and report lease violations, especially with regard to pet policies.

If you are a New York or New Jersey landlord with tenants you believe are violating lease terms, contact the law offices of Griffin Alexander P.C. We focus on landlord/tenant law in New York and New Jersey. Let us help you sort through the morass of laws, ordinances, rules and court cases that affect your rights and those of your tenants.

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