March 11, 2019

A Cup of Joe | No Pets Allowed - Sometimes

In this week’s case we meet Priscilla Vargas, a dog owner who lived in a no-pets-allowed apartment.  One day, Priscilla’s landlord filed a proceeding to have Priscilla evicted from the apartment for violating the No-Pets clause of her lease. Priscilla stated that she needed the dog for psychological reasons – her dog, Priscilla said, was a comfort pet. Priscilla needed her dog for emotional support.

The Court had to determine two things: first, was Priscilla’s dog is truly an emotional support animal that she needs in order to enjoy the use of her apartment; and, second, did the landlord start the proceeding in a timely manner.

At trial, Priscilla presented a letter from Urban Health Plan, Inc., signed by a social worker, stating that Priscilla was under their care since May 16, 2018. The letter was dated May 31, 2018. The letter stated that Priscilla suffered from "adjustment disorder with anxiety and unresolved grief," and recommended that Priscilla be allowed to reside with her dog, which she required for emotional support. The letter cautioned, “fulfill the patient's request in order to avoid exacerbation of her medical conditions."

Priscilla did not call any professional witness from Urban Health Plan, Inc., or anywhere else, to testify on her behalf. The Court had only Priscilla's testimony and the social worker's letter to support her claim that the dog is an emotional support animal.

The Court determined that Priscilla failed to demonstrate through either medical or psychological expert testimony or evidence that she required a dog in order for her to use and enjoy the apartment. The judge concluded that Priscilla did not meet her burden of establishing that her dog was an emotional support animal. BUT, wait. There was still one more issue:

Section 27-2009.1(b) of the Administrative Code of the City of New York, known as the New York City Pet Law, states:

Where a tenant in a multiple dwelling openly and notoriously for a period of three months or more following taking possession of a unit, harbors or has harbored a household pet or pets, the harboring of which is not prohibited by the multiple dwelling law, the housing maintenance or the health codes of the City of New York or any other applicable law, and the owner or his or her agent has knowledge of this fact, and such owner fails within this three month period to commence a summary proceeding or action to enforce a lease provision prohibiting the keeping of such household pets, such lease provision shall be deemed waived."

Priscilla testified to having notified the landlord of the dog's presence in her apartment by letter dated, November 10, 2013.  The proceeding was not commenced by the landlord until February, 2018, almost five years after the landlord had knowledge of the dog's presence.

Here is what the Court decided: The proceeding should have been commenced within the three months of the landlord's knowledge, or the pet clause in the lease is waived. Here, it was not.

Case dismissed. Priscilla and her dog get to stay.

Here is the case: http://www.courts.state.ny.us/reporter/3dseries/2019/2019_29058.htm

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