We get it: You’re planning on moving and would love to get a pet in your new apartment (all those new dog posts on social media have given you some serious dog envy). You’re aware that a lot of New York City landlords don’t allow dogs, so you’re thinking of sneaking one into your apartment. But do you really want to keep a secret that big where you live? Three words: Too. much. stress.
You may not have to sneak around. It’s easier to have a pet now in a rental apartment. In recent months, more landlords have been allowing renters to have pets to in order to sweeten deals on rentals. Some buildings are even allowing large dog breeds that were once a dealbreaker for getting approved.
However, the bottom line, says Mark Karten, a broker at Karten Real Estate Services, is that getting a dog or cat (or python) into a non-pet-friendly building is about as easy as finding a rent-controlled apartment in the West Village.
“Most landlords are just anti-pet,” he says, noting that for many buildings, the noise, messes, and conflict among tenants simply doesn’t make it worth the risk. But there are some tips and tricks for getting a pooch into what might be a pup-free pad.
[Editor's note: An earlier version of this post was published in August 2017. We are presenting it again with updated information for July 2021.]
It used to be that landlords would require a hefty deposit in order to allow pets, but the 2019 changes to the rent laws prevent landlords from collecting additional money upfront other than one month’s rent for a security deposit—making “pet fees” illegal.
Keep reading for Brick Underground’s tips on getting your New York City landlord to let you have a pet in your apartment.
1) Put your best paw forward
“Everything in life is about who you know, like and trust,” Karten says. “It depends on the pet and the person." For instance, if you have sparkling references, stellar credit, and a small, well-behaved dog, you might still get greenlit.
“I’ve worked with a few buyers and renters with a pet slightly over the weight limit or wasn’t a common breed for the building,” says Katherine Salyi, a broker at Sotheby's. But putting together a “pet resume” consisting of a reference letter, health history, training certifications, and a photo will help make a case by not only proving that you're serious about pleasing your landlord, but that you actually have a responsible pet. It’s also important to have a letter from your vet saying your dog (or cat) is up to date on vaccines, especially the rabies vaccine, which is required by NYC law.
In a way, Salyi notes, it’s a lot like online dating. “It’s not uncommon for hopeful tenants to fudge the weight of their dog. They’re presenting the picture they want people to see.” Obviously, you can't say your Great Dane weighs what a Corgi does, or the landlord will call your bluff. But neither is likely to begrudge a few pounds. Again it really depends on how lenient your landlord is.
2) Teach an old dog new tricks
If you’ve decided to move into a building that staunchly doesn’t allow pets, don’t expect your landlord to magically change his mind overnight just because you suddenly have to have a dog. That said, there are, of course, side doors to getting pets into non-pet buildings. One is the tricky “three-month law,” which says that if you have a companion animal in your apartment “openly and notoriously” for three months, “any no-companion animal clause in a lease is considered waived and unenforceable.”
That means you have to live your life as you normally would, just with your new pet, so no smuggling your Yorkie out the door in a handbag or hiding pee pads and water dishes. And, after three months, if your landlord hasn't said anything or filed a suit, they cannot do a thing about the newest tenant. The city recommends keeping detailed notes about when and where an employee of the building saw you with your (non-notorious) pet and who else witnessed the encounter.
The law states that you shouldn't fear threats of eviction if you're discovered, and even if you lose your case in a lower court, you can appeal. And even if the court rules you have to get rid of your companion animal, you can still likely keep your apartment, albeit after some hefty legal fees, which, if you think about it, is an awful lot of stress and hassle just to keep a dog around.
3) Registered support animal
Although some abuse this to get around their building’s pet policy, if you need a pet as a support animal, the rules are different. Under the Fair Housing Act, persons with a disability are allowed to have a service animal even if the building has a no-pet rule. (If you're facing an eviction over a pet, head over to the Mayor's Alliance for NYC Animals, which offers legal advice.)
Karten's advice: Skip the internet sites that sell ESA certificates, vests, and onesies because those are known scams. You need to have a letter from a licensed mental health professional that states you need an emotional support animal, he says.
Karten says the law even extends to exotic animals. “If my python makes me feel better and allows me to go outside, that will fly. But the average person has to know that if you have three pit bulls, nobody will take you unless it’s a private home.”
4) Landlord’s best friend
At the end of the day, nothing gets you more bonus points than actual friendship and camaraderie with your landlord—at least within reason. “If you have good credit and are a wonderful potential tenant, the landlord will bend a bit,” Karten says.
That means if you've been living in a non-pet building but want a four-legged friend, your best course of action is first starting a friendship with your two-legged landlord. Be honest about your desire for a pet, and, if you've been friendly and a good tenant, your landlord is more likely to bend the rules, since it's ultimately more difficult for him to find a new quality tenant.
When you're looking, also keep in mind that most new construction buildings allow pets as a way to attract new tenants, Salyi adds. But within reason. “The market really determines how selective a landlord can be,” she says.
If nothing else, these measures go to show the level of dedication pet owners and prospective owners have for their furry family members. “New York City dog owners will do almost anything for their pets,” Salyi says.
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