Q. I live in a brownstone in Carroll Gardens. My neighbors next door, who also own their single family townhome, keep five large dogs. The dogs have regular access to the rear garden through a doggie door. It’s not uncommon to hear them racing back and forth, barking, howling, and otherwise causing a major disturbance.
Are there any laws that prohibit keeping so many pets in one household?
A. There are generally two types of laws that govern the right to own pets: limit laws and zoning laws.
Limit laws set an outright prohibition on the number of pets that can be owned by one person or household in a municipality (e.g. “no person shall own more than two dogs”). They have on at least two occasions been found to be unconstitutional by courts in other states.
Zoning laws, on the other hand, work by regulating the number of pets that can be kept in a certain class of property (e.g. “two dogs per 1 – 4 dwelling” or “no limit for land zoned as farmland”) and have generally been upheld by the courts. Unfortunately for you, NYC has no limit or zoning laws regulating the number of pets that can be owned but other municipalities in NY State do have zoning laws. Apartment buildings may have may adopt their own policies, but that also doesn't help in your situation.
All is not necessarily lost, however.
Nuisance laws that can be used to hold pet owners accountable for their animals’ noises.
According to A Guide to the New York City Noise Code, the code “is designed to be flexible, and first complaints of excessive animal noise may lead to education” but when complaints persist, “further action can be taken.”
Be persistent--and consistent. If your neighbors’ dogs are causing an unreasonable amount of noise for 10 minutes or more between 7am and 10pm or for five minutes or more between 10pm and 7am, then you should call 311 to file a complaint.
The city’s first response will likely be to contact the owner and provide them with information about responsible pet ownership. Subsequent complaints can lead to the issuance of fines that start at $70; however, don’t expect the city to aggressively pursue the matter lest you may find the resolution disappointing.
Depending on your neighbor, a better option may be to speak to them directly. In many cases, pet owners are not entirely aware of the nuisance that their beloved animals have become to neighbors and they may take steps to rectify the situation.
Mike Akerly is a New York City real estate attorney, landlord, and real estate broker. He is also the publisher of the Greenwich Village blog VillageConfidential.