When Nell McCaffery started looking for a rental apartment in New York City, she had three main concerns: living in a good school district for her twin 9-year-old boys; being close to the No. 1 train to ease her husband’s commute to Riverdale; and finding a building that would accept the family dog, a 70-pound mutt with Rottweiler markings.
That last challenge, not surprisingly, was the biggest.
Although Mrs. McCaffery began her search at her computer in Colorado Springs last February, well in advance of the family’s July 1 move, she quickly discovered what New York City pet owners know all too well: many landlords do not allow dogs or cats, especially large dogs or breeds that some people consider aggressive, like pit bulls, Rottweilers and Dobermans.
“It was a little nerve-racking,” Mrs. McCaffery said, “because our dog is definitely part of our family. You’d find out a place is pet-friendly, but then there would be restrictions — not more than 50 pounds or not certain breeds.”
She posted a message on streeteasy.com asking for advice. Respondents suggested pet-friendly buildings, property managers and brokers, as well as tips on negotiating with landlords (offer to pay an extra security deposit; do not mention the dog’s breed at all).
After months of daily Web searches and phone calls, Mrs. McCaffery saw an advertisement on Craigslist for a two-bedroom Upper West Side apartment being vacated by a family with two dogs. Although the McCafferys had to pay a nonrefundable $750 pet fee to seal the deal, their lease does not have any breed or weight restrictions — and there is a dog park five blocks away.
“We feel very lucky,” Mrs. McCaffery said. “It’s definitely a pro-dog city. You just have to do your homework.”
Teri Karush Rogers, the editorial director at BrickUnderground.com, a New York City real estate guide, suggests gathering photos of your dog interacting with people and other animals; getting references from your groomer, veterinarian or neighbor; and outlining your dog’s routine — for instance, explaining that you plan to hire a dog walker.
“Prepare a little package almost if you were applying to a co-op board,” Ms. Rogers said. “Basically, you want to convey that you’re a responsible owner.”
Some landlords may not care to see a whole photo album of your dog on Flickr, but in other cases, pictures and references may help sway an undecided property manager or owner. Ms. Rogers also suggested including a certificate from a dog training course like the Canine Good Citizen Program of the American Kennel Club.
Co-op boards and condo associations will probably want to meet the pets to make sure they are not pony-sized and are well behaved. Some trainers specialize in preparing dogs for their star turn in front of a board.
As for finding pet-friendly buildings, go to the horse’s mouth — other pet owners.
“Go to the dog runs and ask people how they got their apartments,” said Diane West, the publisher of New York Tails, a magazine for city pet owners. “That’s the best advice I’ve heard, and it actually works.”
The New York City Department of Parks and Recreation has an online guide to local dog runs that is searchable by ZIP code or borough. And NY Bits, a resource for no-fee rentals in New York City, maintains a list of pet-friendly buildings organized by neighborhood, including some in New Jersey.
Robert Herskovitz, a Corcoran agent who specializes in helping clients with pets, suggested contacting animal rescue or advocacy groups to ask for housing advice. He volunteers with Mighty Mutts, an animal rescue organization that promotes pet adoptions on Saturdays in Union Square, and is on the steering committee of FIDO Brooklyn, which hosts monthly gatherings for dog owners and their pets in Prospect Park. Central Park Paws organizes a similar event for dog owners in Manhattan.
Mr. Herskovitz cautioned that listings for rental properties can be vague about pet policies.
“Don’t assume because it says nothing that it’s either pet-friendly or not pet-friendly,” he said. “That could eliminate a lot of properties that may actually be willing to accept your pet.”
Contact the landlord if the rules are unclear. Once you find a place, make sure any lease you sign indicates that you are allowed to have a dog or cat — or several pets, if that is the case.
“Get clear written permission as part of the lease,” said Darryl Vernon, a partner in the law firm Vernon & Ginsburg who specializes in housing cases involving pets.
Because some leases include a clause affirming that the lease supersedes any other agreement between the tenant and the landlord, including oral approval of a dog or cat, Mr. Vernon emphasized that including this language in the actual lease gives a tenant more protection.
He also explained what is known in New York City as the “Pet Law,” or “Three-Month Rule”: If you keep a pet openly — meaning the superintendent or doorman has seen you take your dog out for walks; it isn’t kept hidden in a bag — and your landlord does not send you an eviction notice within three months, then, depending on where you live, you may be allowed to keep that pet, regardless of what your lease says.
The Three-Month Rule applies to co-ops throughout the five boroughs. It also applies to condominiums in Brooklyn, Staten Island and Queens, but not necessarily to Manhattan and the Bronx, because a different court decision affects those boroughs.
A tenant may also be allowed to have a pet despite lease restrictions if the courts determine that an animal helps with a disability, like a hearing issue or depression.
To have a case, Mr. Vernon said, “What you need is essentially two things: You need a disability that really interferes substantially with a major life activity, and then you need your companion animal to be medically helpful.”
Of course, the law works both ways, and if it turns out your dog barks incessantly and drives your neighbors crazy, your landlord can start eviction proceedings, though Mr. Vernon says such nuisance cases can be tough for plaintiffs to win.
“It has to be a substantial interference with other tenants’ rights,” he said, “not just normal barking.” He added that many pet problems can be addressed through training rather than an extended court battle.