Since 2007, Arizona has had a law allowing domestic-violence victims to terminate their leases early and move, without penalty, to protect their safety.
But that hasn’t helped Anne Koshinski, who said her landlord refused to return her security deposit and threatened to collect the remaining four months’ rent due on her lease when she moved out after her abusive former boyfriend moved in across the street.
Koshinski isn’t alone, said Anthony Young, executive director of Southern Arizona Legal Aid.
Sometimes, landlords don’t know about the law, and, in some cases, he said, landlords try to intimidate tenants or keep them in the dark about their rights, Young said.
Koshinski’s ex-boyfriend was evicted from the Monterey Gardens Apartments, 1039 N. Alamo Ave., where both lived in separate apartments.
The relationship was stormy, Koshinski said, including domestic violence and culminating in her filing an order of protection with Tucson police. She doesn’t want to leave the Monterey Gardens but doesn’t feel safe with her ex living across the street, she said.
The Arizona Residential Landlord and Tenant Act allows tenants to terminate a lease when domestic violence is involved without being liable for security deposits or future rent, if they present the landlord with a protective order or a police report. But when she submitted her order of protection and request to end her lease on Sept. 27, Koshinski said, Northpoint Asset Management, which manages the complex, refused.
David Walsh, Northpoint’s president and chief marketing officer, said his firm has received legal counsel on Koshinski’s case and is not in violation of the law, but he would not comment further.
“Well, the landlord is just wrong,” Young, from Southern Arizona Legal Aid, said. He said about half the people coming to his office state they are victims of domestic violence, and an order of protection alone is enough to get tenants out of a lease.
Young advises domestic-violence victims who must move to present the landlord with the law and relevant documents such as an order of protection, and if they don’t comply, to seek legal help from offices like his. He said it is especially important for people with a Section 8 low-income housing subsidy to follow the letter of the law because a lawsuit could result in losing assistance.
“A huge dynamic of domestic violence is displacement,” said Stephanie Noriega, who works with housing issues at Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse. She estimates 150 people each month look for help with relocation from Emerge, with requests ranging from a place to stay for the night to permanent relocation resources.
Economic issues are the biggest reason victims struggle to get away from abusers and the places abusers can easily find them, Noriega said. But, she added, victims often don’t know about the statute that could ease those concerns.
The Arizona Multi-Housing Association, which was involved in passage of the law, referred questions to Becky Noel, Crime Free Multi-Housing Officer with the Tucson Police Department, which just completed its final training session of the year on Arizona tenant law for landlords and property managers.
The protection of the law is twofold – it helps victims move, and it allows landlords to remove suspects from leases and avoid incidents on their properties, Noel said. “It’s a win-win,” she said, good for everyone’s safety.
While losing income might be a concern for landlords, Noel said she believes that the statute is rarely used.
The law also provides property owners the right to seek compensation for losses from the person cited in an order of protection.
In a case like Koshinski’s, that is the ex-boyfriend, according to Young.
For her part, Koshinski is going ahead with her move even though her hopes of getting her $150 deposit back are slim.
“I hope it all works out,” she said, “but at least I can walk away knowing I did the right thing.”
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.