The good news is more New York City landlords allow renters to have pets (who are after all part of your family). But that’s far from the case in every building.
So if you’re a pet owner on the hunt for a new rental, or a tenant who wants to bring home a new pet, it’s helpful knowing there are a few proven strategies to persuade a landlord to give the green light, such as preparing a “resume” to document your dog’s health and training.
A lot of the new leniency towards pets—particularly dogs—was a result of building owners who wanted to attract renters when the market was slow during the height of the pandemic, a time when many New Yorkers adopted pets.
However, just because a listing says “pets allowed” doesn’t mean it’s a 100 percent “pet-friendly” building. For example, some buildings do not allow pets in common areas. Others exclude large dogs or limit the approval to only cats. This means it can still be difficult to find a pet-friendly rental—or to convince your current landlord to approve your new four-legged roommate.
[Editor’s note: An earlier version of this post was published in July 2022. We are presenting it again with updated information for July 2023.]
What’s more, landlords are often concerned about the additional wear and tear that comes from having a dog or cat, so it can be helpful to address those concerns from the outset. For example, you can explain that you plan to crate-train your dog instead of letting her roam the apartment at all hours, and especially when you are gone (read: no frantic dog scratching on the door).
And keep in mind, landlords cannot ask for a deposit in order to approve your pet—changes to the rent laws in 2019 prevent landlords from collecting additional money upfront other than one month’s rent for a security deposit—making “pet fees” illegal.
Read on for these and other tactics that you can try.
1. Document your pet’s health and training record
Pet approval depends on the animal and the applicant. For instance, if you have sparkling references, stellar credit, and a small, well-behaved dog, you might well get the go-ahead.
Putting together a pet resume consisting of a reference letter, health history, training certificates, and a photo can help make a case by not only proving that you’re serious about pleasing your landlord, but that you are a responsible pet owner. It’s also important to have a letter from your vet saying your dog (or cat) is up to date on vaccines, especially the rabies vaccine, which is required by NYC law.
Getting a pet past the landlord is a lot like online dating: It’s not uncommon for hopeful tenants to fudge the weight of their dog, presenting the picture they want people to see. Obviously, you can’t say your Great Dane weighs what a Corgi does, or the landlord will call your bluff. But neither are they likely to begrudge a few pounds.
2. Build a solid relationship with your landlord or management company
Nothing gets you more bonus points than actual friendship and camaraderie with your landlord. This is more likely to happen in a small building but the same principle works for landlords with larger portfolios.
Jane Katz, an agent at Coldwell Banker Warburg, managed to find a rental for a family with four dogs on the Upper East Side recently and thinks the landlord showed flexibility because they had previously lived in other buildings under the same ownership.
If you’ve been living in a non-pet building and decide it’s time to get a pet, your best course of action is to be honest about your desire for a pet. If you’ve been a good tenant—you pay your rent on time and look after the place—your landlord is more likely to bend the rules. “Honesty is the best policy,” says Kimberly Jay, a broker at Compass. “In a nice way, ask your landlord. I really think it’s that simple,” she says.
Here’s another pro tip: When you’re looking for a place that’s pet friendly, consider looking in the slower winter months. The market often determines how selective a landlord is.
3. Exercise your rights with the three-month rule
Having a pet in your building without approval can be stressful and puts you at risk of eviction. That said, there are side doors to getting pets into non-pet buildings (though this is in no way an endorsement of skirting the rules set forth in your lease).
One is the tricky “three-month law,” which says that if you have a companion animal in your apartment “openly and notoriously” for three months, “any no-companion animal clause in a lease is considered waived and unenforceable.”
This means you have to live your life as you normally would, just with your new pet in full view—no smuggling your Yorkie out the door in a handbag or hiding pee pads and water dishes when the super stops by to fix a leaky faucet. If, after three months, your landlord hasn’t said anything or filed a lawsuit, they can no longer enforce the no-pet policy.
BTW, the city recommends keeping detailed notes about when and where an employee of the building saw you with your pet and who else witnessed the encounter. Recording your out-in-the-open comings and goings on video, making sure to capture staff seeing (and possibly petting!) your pet can’t hurt, either.
The law states that you shouldn’t fear threats of eviction if you’re discovered, and even if you lose your case in a lower court, you can appeal. Should the court rule you have to get rid of your companion animal, you can still likely keep your apartment, albeit after some hefty legal fees—which, if you think about it, is an awful lot of stress and hassle just to keep a dog around (and you’ll have to say bye-bye to Birdie).
4. Get a letter from a health professional saying you need a support animal
Although some people abuse this to get around their building’s pet policy, if you need a pet as a support animal, the rules are different. Under various discrimination laws, people with a disability are allowed to have a service animal even if the building has a no-pet rule.
Service animals typically have certification from the facility where they were trained. Online certification of a support animal is often a scam. What you need is a letter from a licensed mental health professional stating you need an emotional support or service animal.
If that doesn’t describe your situation, you’re bound to land a rental that allows your specific pet after a little patience and perseverance—including if your current landlord refuses to budge and you are back on the hunt for a new place. These days every listing site has a “pet-friendly” filter, so tick that box and then read the fine print before you schedule a viewing.