Co-ops can be notoriously picky when it comes to approving new buyers, but now it seems that people themselves aren’t the only ones who are expected to make the grade. Dogs are also under the microscope.
When you think “pet restrictions,” you probably imagine the issues surround the size, breed, and the number of pets that will be in the residence—and those concerns are not absent (more on that later). But co-ops are increasingly taking it to another level. New Yorkers Heidi DeCoo and Carl Norton were asked by the board in the Manhattan co-op they were looking to purchase for a meet-and-greet with their two schnoodles. A schnoodle is a mix between a schnauzer and a poodle.
“The dogs were brought before a small panel of board members who interacted with them for a few minutes to see if they would be problematic,” said REALTOR Magazine. “The pups passed, to their owners’ relief.”
The interview, for lack of a better word, wasn’t a one-off. “Some boards are requiring headshots, resumes, and even recommendation letters for pets,” they said. This is especially prevalent in New York, where “some boards have brought in third-party ‘dog whisperers’ who will do a 10-minute evaluation and observation of the pet to determine if they’d be a good neighbor.”
The aforementioned breed restrictions are still in place in many co-ops and condos. “For example, one New York City building has banned a long list of dog breeds, including Alaskan malamutes, caucasian mountain dogs, chihuahuas, chow chows, dachshunds, dalmatians, doberman pinschers, German shepherds, huskies, Jack Russell terriers, lhasa apsos, Old English sheepdogs, papillons, pekingese, pinschers, pit bulls, presa canarios, Rottweilers, toy poodles, and schnauzers. The co-op says it will approve an owner’s dog only if a resident signs a letter that acknowledges the dog can remain in the building only at the board’s discretion and on a trial basis. After that trial period, the board can require the dog removed.”
But, according to the Chicago Tribune, “Many condominium associations have found their pet bans have no teeth.” That’s because owners are finding an end-around by “requesting permission to keep assistance animals due to physical or mental disability. Associations have little choice but to grant the exceptions.”
Much like the issue of “service animals” on airplanes, many suspect these pets are not actually needed, but U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s federal fair housing laws are in place to allow such animals in pet-free buildings—which makes this a system ripe for fraud. As Thomas Skweres, regional vice president at ACM Community Management in Downers Grove, told the Tribune, "All they need is a prescription from a doctor, in most cases, for the animal to be given a 'reasonable accommodation.' The number of assistance animals has grown considerably."
Part of the advantage of skirting the rule: Not only can an owner get permission for a pet, but associations also “cannot require the owner to pay a deposit, and they cannot restrict animal breeds, sizes or weights.”
Check the HOA
For those who want to do things by the book, it’s imperative to read the Homeowner’s Association documents beforehand.
“If you own a dog or other pet, or hope to someday, you should pay special attention to what's allowed before buying into such a community; and maybe consider buying a home that's not subject to this level of outside control,” said NOLO. “The rules governing a condo or similar community can be found in a document typically called the development's ‘Covenants, Conditions, and Restrictions’ (CC&Rs) as well as the bylaws or declarations of the condominium owners' association, or a similar governing document. As a prospective homebuyer, you have a right to review these before purchasing.”
It’s typical for an HOA to specify a maximum number of animals that can be live in the residence—or they can forbid them altogether. “The level of detail can be surprising. You may be allowed no dogs, or only one dog, or up to two dogs so long as each one weighs less than 35 pounds, or only dogs that belong to certain breeds. The HOA may also take steps to ensure that you obey state or local laws, for example by providing proof that your dog is vaccinated and has a license.
There may also be specific language for other pets including cats and birds, and exotic pets like iguanas and snakes.