Posted by VJ on April 16, 2000 at 22:45:41:
BUILDING OWNER GRANTED REPRIEVE ON PET HOLDOVER PROCEEDING
BY STEPHEN C. SHULMAN, ESQ.
Owners of apartment building complexes can rejoice. The Appellate Term has put some realism
into the oppressively restrictive conditions governing the eviction of pet owners whose animals
occupy the premises in violation of their leases.
On February 25, 2000, the Appellate Term issued a decision in Seward Park Housing Corp. v.
Cohen. According to the court, Seward Park, who is represented by my firm, successfully
established its right to evict the Cohen's, who were harboring a dog in their apartment in
violation of the lease.
What makes this a landmark decision is that the trial court had earlier dismissed the proceeding
because the court had found that the landlord had known about the dog for more than 90 days
before suing the Cohen's. Because the restrictive section of the City Administrative Code
prohibits a landlord from evicting a tenant where the tenant keeps the dog openly and
notoriously for 90 days, the judge ruled that the landlord had "knowledge" and dismissed the
petition. The landlord appealed.
Seward Park, a complex of 1700 apartments spread among a number of buildings, employs
many people, including security staff, maintenance workers and porters. While these staff
people worked for the buildings' owners and had occasionally seen the Cohen's walking the
dog, the Appellate Court ruled their knowledge could not be imputed to the owner. The court
ruled that these workers, who had specific responsibilities for security and maintenance could
not be reasonably expected to ferret out dogs and cats and report information to the landlord.
Since the landlord's agents had only discovered the dog two months before commencing the
proceeding, then the court ruled the action was commenced timely, and the landlord was
granted a judgment of possession.
The Appellate Court stated that the 90-day statute of limitations was designed to protect tenants
from abusive landlords who failed to take actions against a tenant for an extended period of
time, and then began evictions purely as retaliatory measures against the tenant who was
otherwise in compliance with their lease.
It must be noted that a judge dissented from the majority and that as a result, there is a
reasonable possibility that the decision may be subject to further review by the Appellate
Division if tenants appeal.
Nevertheless, the decision makes some credible, practical points. Firstly, if you manage a large
residential complex, you should define - in writing - and make available to the tenants in their
lease, the duties of the non-managing employees, such as doorman, security personnel,
maintenance workers, etc. Whether their duties include reporting any lease violations outside
those related to their duties should also be made clear. On the other side, those employees
entrusted with managing the property should be made responsible to report every single
incident where they view a dog, cat or other pet being openly and notoriously kept by a tenant at
Stephen C. Shulman is a member of the law firm of Borah, Goldstein, Altschuler & Schwartz,
and works for landlords.
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