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Real Estate | Can My Condo Make Me Use the Service Elevator When I’m With My Dog?

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/01/08/realestate/can-my-condo-make-me-use-the-service-elevator-when-im-with-my-dog.html

Ask Real Estate

Most apartment owners are subject to the house rules, which a board can change. But some rules are not always enforceable.

Credit... Nadia Pillon

Ronda Kaysen

Jan. 8, 2022

Q: I live in an Upper West Side condo with many rent-stabilized apartments. A few weeks ago, all the residents — both renters and owners — received a threatening letter from the managing agent saying that the board can impose fines on tenants if they take their dogs outside through the lobby. Instead, we must use a service elevator and exit through a long service hallway, both of which are often full of obstructions because they’re used by contractors and maintenance workers. Tenants must carry their dogs in the elevator now, too. Are these rules and fines legal?

A: This is the kind of rule that is not uniformly enforceable, and could be challenged by some of the residents.

First, the board may run into opposition from anyone whose dog is an emotional-support animal, because the city’s Human Rights Law gives those owners substantial rights. Someone with an emotional-support pet is entitled to equal use and enjoyment of their home.

“They can’t be forced to take a service elevator, or go out some other entrance, particularly if that other entrance is, say, out the back, or in a less safe place, or through the basement,” said Darryl M. Vernon, a real estate lawyer who represents people with companion animals.

A resident with a disability could challenge the rule under federal, state and local disability laws. Someone with mobility issues or back problems, for example, might not be able to carry a pet on the elevator, or may worry about tripping hazards. That resident could request a reasonable accommodation, such as using the lobby and the passenger elevator.

Rent-stabilized tenants also have protections, and are not governed by condo rules. Instead, they are governed by the terms of their lease and stabilization laws, meaning management cannot enforce house rules on them. Beyond that, landlords cannot charge rent-stabilized tenants more than their rent, making it likely that these fines are unenforceable. If the original stabilized lease does not include a rule about walking dogs out the back door or using the service elevator for them, the rule cannot be added later. “This very well adds up to unlawful and actionable harassment by this landlord,” Mr. Vernon said.

The landlord could, however, enforce the rule for market-rate tenants and unit owners without any disability claims. Unit owners are subject to the house rules, which the board can change. And a market-rate lease might include terms that require the tenant to follow the rules of the condo.

However, since so many tenants may be entitled to a pass, management might have a hard time enforcing fines sporadically.

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