Q: I used to love my rental-regulated apartment, which I have lived in for a decade until the property management eased their strict pet ban policy. I have severe allergies and prefer not to live with other people's pets. Suddenly everyone has a dog. Despite my complaints about barking and dog hair in the washing machines, management insists that the building is not pet friendly. At this point, I'd like to move, but I've just signed another two-year lease. Can I cancel my rental contract because of the weakened pet policy?
A: Pet guidelines are not always as simple as they seem. Your lease may have a pet no-pet clause, but your neighbor's may not. It is entirely possible that management has different rules for different tenants or that the rules are selectively enforced.
"The landlord is free to allow some people to keep pets," said Samuel J. Himmelstein, a Manhattan attorney who represents tenants. "What we often see is that they are allowing tenants to have pets at market prices, and they are not allowing non-stabilized tenants."
Even if management enforces a strict no-pet rule, there are still workarounds. For example, pets for emotional support are allowed under city rules. Or, if a tenant keeps a pet open for three months and the administration doesn't protest, the pet can stay.
If your allergies are severe enough, you could possibly argue that you are entitled to decent housing under the city's human rights law and that housing could get you off the lease, Mr Himmelstein said. You will likely need a medical certificate to support this argument. But your landlord will likely argue that despite the proliferation of dogs, you have willingly extended the lease and agree to these terms.
There is an easier way to do this. Call the manager and tell them you want to move as the building has too many dogs making your allergies worse. They can be accessible – a rental stabilized apartment is usually relatively easy to rent and the rental market is picking up again. "It seems to me that there is a queue for a rent-stabilized apartment today," said Himmelstein.
If management opposes your request, let them know that you want to reassign the lease to someone else. Then go out and find a suitable candidate who can pay the rent. If the landlord unreasonably refuses a new transfer, you must be exempted from the rental agreement in accordance with state law. Keep in mind, however, that you may encounter the same problems in another building, now that you have learned that the term “no pets” is a loose term.