Welcome to the Building! Please Get Rid of Your Dog!
I had a client call me in tears a few years ago relating the following story. She and her husband decided to adopt a dog from a shelter. Her building had a policy that permitted dogs, but restricted them to a 30 lb. weight limit. Not entirely uncommon in our region to have such a restriction.
Before they agreed to adopt this mix from the shelter, hey brought it to a vet, who confirmed that given the breed mix present in the shelter dog, it was likely to grow to a maximum of 25 lbs. The vet also disclosed that the dog seemed to have a heart valve issue which would make him quite docile, unlikely to be terribly active, and would likely just lie around a lot. Perfect apartment dog!! My clients were thrilled, the orphan mutt ecstatic, and everything was fine.
“He sort of had a bit appetite,” my client related. “He did lay around a lot, but when he ate, he ate a lot.” The dog never barked, was well behaved in the elevator, other residents loved him, and all was well.
He Kept Growing!
“But he kept growing,” my now-tearful client explained. Tipping the scales at 78 lbs., my clients were nervous. They received a letter from the condo board “evicting” shelter dog, and them, for violating the building’s pet policy.
The story ended happily after some “negotiations” with the friendly people on the building’s board, but the story makes an important point to remember. Pet regulations are an important consideration when buying an apartment in New York, and should not be trivialized. I love animals, I just don’t own one. But I’ve discovered something about people with pets. They like them, and they don’t handle well calls from management telling them to get rid of them.
So if you’re a pet owner
Or a broker representing a pet owner, be careful. Nearly every building in the New York region has pet regulations. Some permit pets only on board approval. In a coop, that’s easy. Disclose the animal in the contract, and then the board either accepts or rejects the application – with the pet disclosed. But condos can be trickier. There is no board application, just an application for a waiver. While many buildings do ask about pets in the waiver application, they cannot reject an applicant as they can in a coop. The board either exercises its right of first refusal (meaning, the condo board buys the apartment at the same terms as contemplated to the prospective buyer, which is quite rare), or it waives its right to buy the apartment and issues a waiver. The transaction continues, and the buyer closes. But now the buyer must apply to the condo board for permission to keep the pet. What happens if the board now says no to Rover?
“We live in a world of gray,” laments Prudential Douglas Elliman’s Leonard Steinberg, referring to rules about pets, subleases, and the like. Steinberg once had dog-owning clients who were far into the buying process when they discovered the condo’s bylaws were unclear about pet ownership. They requested language in their contract expressly allowing pets, which was granted. (That would have been a lot harder to arrange in a co-op that requires a two-thirds-majority vote to change the house rules.)
The legal term for that is a “complete mess.”
What to do?
Learn about the pet regulations before signing the contract, and provide for approval in advance. If you’re selling, learn the pet regulations so that you can quickly eliminate potential buyers whose pet ownership might violate building rules: don’t waste your time. And remember, it’s not always that pets are or are not allowed, often times buildings have restrictions on breeds, weight limits, limitations on number of animals (often two), and restrictions against reptiles and birds.
Like many aspects of real estate, the devil really is in the details, and pet regulations are a great example.