When Sunrise, Ginger Inserillo’s West Highland terrier, died two years ago, the Lindenwood woman thought that she couldn’t be more grief stricken. That was until she received a letter saying that her condominium—the 166 unit Heritage House North and South—was amending its decades old, dog friendly policy by prohibiting residents from bringing new dogs home.
Calling the June 2005 announcement both unfair and illegal, the 22 year Heritage House resident explained that dogs become a part of people’s families. “The attachments you have—they’re not even animals. Many people chose to live in this building for that reason (because it allowed dogs),” said an incensed Inserillo.
And because the building allowed dogs, Inserillo planned to stay. Before the policy change, the wheelchair bound woman invested thousands of dollars in kitchen and bathroom renovations to make her home wheelchair accessible and safe.
While she described a move to a dog friendly building as financially unfeasible, were she looking, she would have found that the offerings have narrowed—the different boards of directors in Lindenwood’s condominiums and cooperatives are increasingly considering their pet guidelines with an eye to the future.
For many of the same reasons that dogs are being grandfathered out of Heritage House—dogs barking and relieving themselves in hallways and lobbies and owners not curbing their animals in the areas around the buildings—similar policies have been set in place at Pembroke Square Apartments and Dartmouth Cooperative.
Heritage House East and West, another condominium group, allowed residents to keep their dogs, but started charging $500 registration fees for each animal.
“If people were responsible for their dogs then (the policy change) wouldn’t have happened,” said Ellie Carroll, an elected Pembroke board member of two years, of the 1999 policy change at her co op. She recalled watching a dog owner allow his pet to chew through a tulip garden on the co ops’ grounds only days after the board did $3,000 worth of spring plantings.
The grandfathering away of Pembroke’s dogs has also been accompanied by heavy fines: tenants are docked $250 a month for housing dogs acquired after the building’s rule change. Coming or going with a dog through one of the building’s two front doors, as opposed to a side door, results in a $50 fine, reported resident Dorothy DiCicco.
But at other buildings, dog friendly policies attract prospective residents. Vineyard Cooperative Inc. long held to a no dog policy before relaxing that stance three years ago, according to 40 year resident Bert Rosenberg. Explaining that dogs bring smiles to the faces of elderly passers by and often trigger conversations between strangers, he speculated that his board of directors made the move to attract dog lovers to units being vacated.
Betty Ryan, a resident of Plymouth House, Heritage’s neighboring, two building condominium that allows dogs, reported that in her seven years in Lindenwood, the unit owners have gotten progressively younger. She believes that the ever escalating price of homeownership has made condominium ownership an increasingly attractive option for families, many of whom have dogs. Reporting that many dog owners living in Plymouth and its surrounding buildings don’t curb their pets, she understands why fines and policy changes have been put in place, but sympathizes with those frustrated with their boards of directors over pet issues.
Management resident pet clashes are nothing new in Queens and the city. In July, a Queens Civil Court judge ruled that a Bay Terrace woman could remain with her chihuahua in her rent stabilized apartment after her landlord had begun eviction proceedings. After hearing testimony, both a psychologist and state Sen. Frank Padavan (R Bellerose), who has introduced legislation that would prohibit discrimination against senior pet owners, the judge cited the city’s 23 year old Pet Law, which prevents landlords from spontaneously enforcing long ignored no pet provisions written into tenants’ leases. Landlords had notoriously used the provisions to force residents out of rent controlled apartments. The legislation waives no pet clauses unless landlords enforce them within three months of the pet’s acquisition.
In February 2004, legislation principally sponsored by Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D Forest Hills) was put before the City Council to ensure that the initial waiver of the no pet clause would apply for the duration of a resident’s tenancy, not the life of the resident’s pet. The Housing and Building Committee held three hearings on the bill, but adamant opposition voiced by the Council of New York Cooperatives & Condominiums—unwilling to allow a city edict to trump dog policies at individual buildings throughout the five boroughs—helped kill the initiative. When reintroduced by Councilman Tony Avella (D Bayside) in February, the bill’s language purposefully excluded condominiums and co ops.
Describing these buildings as “self governing bodies that have the right to determine their own destinies,” Avella said that the democratically elected boards of directors at each condo or co op unit should be the bodies that craft their own pet laws.
“We’re a lot like government,” agreed Heritage House South resident John Kirchmann, explaining that the decision to phase dogs out of his home of 33 years came about after a majority of residents’ frustrations with the animals had mounted.
But other Heritage House North and South residents believe that, as property owners, they should not be denied their pet owning rights, particularly when the units they closed on permitted dogs.
“Most aren’t very happy,” said Eric Mills of Heritage House South, who purchased his Airedale terrier a year before the board changed its dog policy. He reported that on his floor alone, four dog owners will not be able to replace their pets. “If people have dogs, they’re going to want to be able to replace them,” Mills added.
Other residents said that they believed a vote was in order before such a drastic policy change was made.
“It’s just not right,” said Wendy Martinez, a Heritage House North resident, adding that her thoughts and those of her neighbors were not solicited before the policy change. She said that she would never have purchased her unit if she had known of an impending dog policy change.