Exceptions to NYC's Pet Law and Landlords' No-Pets Rules

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New York City's pet law, which is part of the city's Administrative Code, carves out an exception that lets tenants keep pets despite what their landlord or lease might say.

Landlords and Pets

Landlords generally are free to choose whether or not tenants may keep pets in their apartments. If you have a pet and are looking for an apartment, it's always a good idea to mention this to your broker or prospective landlords, so you limit your search to pet-friendly buildings.

Many landlords ban pets from their buildings because they're afraid of possible property damage, as well as liability issues if a pet annoys or causes harm to other tenants and their guests.

Some landlords choose to let tenants keep pets in their apartment; these landlords address their concerns by requiring tenants to sign a pet agreement, which is often made part of the lease. Typical pet agreements require owners to pay a deposit to cover damage their pet may cause, have their pets spayed or neutered, clean up after their pets, and keep dogs leashed while in the hallway, courtyard, and other common areas.

Landlords who allow pets often believe their policy will attract more prospects, so apartment listings will usually indicate if vacancies are in a pet-friendly building.

What's the Exception?

New York City's pet law includes an exception that makes it possible to keep a pet in your apartment despite a landlord's no-pets rule.

You fall under the exception if you openly keep a pet in your building for three months, your landlord finds out (or should have found out) about the pet during this time, and your landlord takes no action to enforce the no-pets rule against you.

Does Your Situation Fit?

The exception isn't about being sneaky or tricking a landlord into letting you keep a pet despite a no-pets rule. On the contrary, it's about earning the right to keep a pet after a landlord knows (or should know) about the pet but decides, for whatever reason, not to enforce their rule against you. In effect, the law prevents landlords from suddenly deciding to enforce a neglected rule as a convenient way to evict an unwanted tenant.

In legal jargon, this type of exception is known as "waiver." If you fit into this exception, it means that the landlord may legally continue to have a no-pets rule–but that the rule is waived, or ignored, as far as you and your pet are concerned.

Here are the basics to help you determine whether your situation fits into this exception:

  • You must keep the pet in your building for at least three months. Landlords don't have to take action to enforce their no-pets rule immediately, but if they don't want you to keep your pet on premises, they need to let you know this no later than three months after you first introduce your pet to your apartment.
  • The landlord must be in a position to know about your pet. If you keep your pet hidden, you might increase the chances that your landlord won't learn about your noncompliance with the no-pets rule. To meet the exception, you must keep a pet "openly and notoriously." Tenants who qualify under the exception don't have to worry about keeping their pet a secret, even if their lease says otherwise.
  • The landlord doesn't have to take any action personally. Employees and other agents of the landlord can take action to enforce the no-pets rule on the landlord's behalf.
  • Your pet must not create a nuisance. Your pet can't damage property or pose a serious threat to tenants' health and safety.
  • Your landlord must not be the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). The law exempts the NYCHA from this exception.