The NYC Pet Law, and Other Ways to Own a Dog in Your Apartment

August 19, 2022 | 8 minute read | the RENT BETTA team

Dog laying on a pillow on the bed
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Would you love to adopt a dog in New York City, but your lease says "no pets"?

Ask your landlord (nicely) for permission, use the 90 day rule in the NYC Pet Law, or legally meet the requirements for an Emotional Support or Service Animal to get around a “no pets” lease provision.  If your neighbors have a cat or dog, your landlord may be flexible and open to a polite request.  If you live in a walk-up without a landlord or Super on site, you may also have some leeway. But don't expect to get very far in a "no pets" luxury building where a concierge guards the door.

Even if your lease says "no pets", you may still be able to get a dog in your NYC apartment. Source: RENTBETTA.com (a website for no fee NYC apartments).

1. Find a pet-friendly apartment on RENTBETTA.com

The easiest way to own a pet is to live in a pet-friendly building, as you won't run into trouble with the landlord so long as you follow their pet policy.

Start looking at apartments on the rental market, and if your landlord won’t come around, make a plan to move out when your lease is up (the best time to move is during the Winter).

RENTBETTA.com connects renters directly building owners in New York City so you can find your next apartment with no broker fee, saving you thousands of dollars.

For a pet-friendly apartment, click “Dogs” or “Cats” on the left search bar, and open any listing to see a detailed description of the buildings Pet Policy, from the last time we toured one of their apartments.

Buildings update their pet policies from time to time, and are typically more generous during the winter when it is hard to find tenants, so talk through any details when you go on a tour.

Typical pet-friendly building requirements

  1. 50 pounds (sometimes 35) or less

  2. No aggressive breeds (eg, Pitbulls, German Shepherds, Rottweilers, crosses of these breeds, and basically any large dog that would scare children)

  3. Friendly towards people and other dogs

Expect the leasing office to ask to meet your dog, either when you first go in for a tour or when you submit your application.

If your dog comes up to the leasing office staff eager to sniff and with a wagging tail, you will pass the "friendly" test with flying colors!

If the dog growls or acts defensive, they will likely reject your application.

2. Ask your landlord (nicely)

This is our favorite approach if you are looking to stay in your current apartment.  

Send your landlord a polite email, saying you are eager to get a dog (or cat), but you’d like to stay in your current apartment. 

Highlight how you’ve been a responsible tenant, paying the rent on time and keeping the place clean.  These are the most important factors landlords look for in tenants.

Include that you’re looking for a well-behaved, small dog (less than 50 pounds), and maybe send a picture of what you found online if you’ve already picked a dog out. 

Don’t mention anything about a puppy, which may scare your landlord because they don't come housetrained and also go through a chewing phase.  Adult dogs are much easier to take care of anyways.

The landlord might bite, and if they give their approval in writing, your lease just became "pet friendly."

Tip: this approach will likely work better during the Winter if your lease is coming up for renewal than during the Summer, when your landlord can easily find another tenant. If you're looking for an apartment, see more NYC renting tips to save money.

3. The 90 Day NYC Pet Law

In New York City, if you keep a pet “openly and notoriously” for 90 days and the landlord doesn’t begin legal action against you for violating a no-pets provision, then legally, they lose the right to do so in the future.

So if you get a dog, don't keep it a secret and run down the clock long enough, you've technically made your "no pets" apartment "pet friendly."

This is known as the New York City Pet Law.

So what exactly does it take to qualify?  

Keep the Pet “Openly and Notoriously” 

This means you may not hide the pet from your landlord or their agents (eg, the Super or any repairmen), and the landlord must be aware or should be aware of the pet. 

If you have a dog, “openly and notoriously” is easy to prove if you're taking the animal out the front door a few times a day to go to the bathroom. 

If you have a cat, someone coming by to make repairs in your apartment and seeing the cat or its belongings should suffice to establish "openly and notoriously". 

Put up a Pet Alert sticker ($6) on your front door and take a picture of it (to get the timestamp).  Keep a record of the dates and times any repairmen came to your apartment or saw you and your pet in the hallways.

90 Days Must Pass

Hold on to any adoption or purchase paperwork with the date showing when you first took ownership of the dog to establish the timeline.

Vet records showing when you brought the dog in for shots, or your log of dates and times from when your landlord or his agents saw your pet will also help establish the start of the 90 day period.

Once you meet the “openly and notoriously” and 90 day requirements, your landlord loses the legal grounds to evict you based on a “no pets” clause in the lease. 

They can still take you to court, but your defense will be the NYC Pet Law and the evidence you’ve diligently recorded. 

Bear in mind, however, if you’re a market-rate tenant your landlord can decide to not offer you a lease renewal for any reason.  The NYC Pet Law only protects you during your lease. 

So if your dog becomes a point of contention, your landlord can force you to move out when your lease is up. The 90 Day Pet Law works best for rent-stabilized tenants with guaranteed lease renewals.

If you're a market rate tenant, keep your dog from being a nuisance and your landlord may look the other way when it comes time to renew your lease.

4. Emotional Support Animals

This is harder to prove than you might think, and an online certificate or doggie jacket from Amazon emblazoned “Emotional Support Animal” does not qualify.  

What you need to establish is that you have a psychiatric disability, and without the pet your isolation and loneliness could increase to the point where you need psychiatric care. 

It's a pretty high bar.

The severity of your psychiatric disability must be so high as to limit your day-to-day functioning, and having a diagnosed mental illness is not enough to meet the threshold for an ESA.

One test courts look to is if you are on disability, or if you have a job and are able to work.

If you are on Social Security Disability (SSD) or Supplemental Security Income (SSI), there is strong evidence you qualify for an ESA, as you have been found by the government unable to work, a major life activity.  

If you are working, however, it will be hard to prove you are sufficiently disabled to qualify for an ESA.

A letter from a local doctor or therapist, ideally one who could testify in court as an expert witness, stating that you need this pet due to a psychiatric disability which is otherwise likely to worsen, should meet the requirements.  

Just as with the NYC Pet Law, the ESA carve-out for pets mainly helps rent stabilized tenants, who are guaranteed lease renewals. 

Market-rate tenants are not guaranteed renewals, so a landlord can always decide to not renew your lease if they don’t like your dog, no matter how much evidence you are building for your ESA case.

5. Verified Service Animals

As per the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a verified service animal is allowed without question, regardless of any “no pets” clause, and no additional pet rent or fees may be charged. 

You must have a legal disability for the pet to qualify as a service animal.

Nuisance Animals

Even if your pet is allowed in the lease or through one of the methods described here, your landlord can still require you to get rid of it if it qualifies as a “nuisance”. 

A “nuisance” is repeated and ongoing behavior (not just a one-time event) that interferes with your neighbors’ ability to live in and enjoy their own apartments. 

This could be repeated loud barking, aggressive behavior like snarling or trying to bite neighbors, or going to the bathroom in public areas. 

So keep Fido well-behaved, as even if your building is “pet-friendly”, you could still be required to get rid of your dog if it becomes a nuisance.

Exotic Pets in New York City

NYC has a lot of people, so there are a lot of laws to make sure we all fit here comfortably.  No matter how pet-friendly your apartment is, you can never own an exotic pet in NYC. 

The only animals you are allowed to keep in a NYC apartment are domesticated cats and dogs, small birds, or small caged animals like a gerbil or hamster. 

Randomly, honeybees and non-snapping turtles under 4 inches in length are also allowed.

What isn’t allowed in NYC? 

Basically, everything else. 

No wild animals, ferrets (and the entire Mustelidae family for that matter, including badgers and weasels), squirrels, spiders, insects, and venomous or constricting snakes are allowed in NYC apartments. No exceptions.

You can see the full list of what's not allowed, but if it’s not a domesticated cat, dog or small bird, it’s likely not allowed, under any circumstances. 

You can call 311 to report an exotic animal in your neighbor’s apartment if you are concerned for your safety.

Conclusion

The easiest way to own a dog in NYC is to find a no fee pet-friendly apartment on RENTBETTA.com, which will also save you thousands of dollars in broker fees.  Even if your lease says “no pets”, you can try asking your landlord (nicely) for permission.  Your odds are pretty good if other tenants in the building also have a dog, if it's hard to find new tenants, and the dog you want is under 50 pounds and friendly. If you live in a walk-up building, the NYC Pet Law will allow you to keep a dog once you have it “openly and notoriously” for 90 days.  If you have a doorman, it'll be pretty hard to skirt pet restrictions (we wouldn't even try). Try to keep good relations with your landlord in any case, as they can decide to not renew your lease if they deem the dog a problem.