Was the girl’s family harboring an illegal canine tenant or welcoming a lawful daytime visitor?
In a city where dogs are judged at co-op board interviews and photographed for rental applications, it is little surprise that the question generated considerable friction between the González family and the landlord of their building on Woodycrest Avenue in the Bronx, who prohibited tenants from keeping dogs full time.
A Bronx housing court judge recently decided that the itinerant Pomeranian, Cookie, had the law on her side: There was no evidence that the dog had stayed overnight in the Bronx, therefore the González family had not violated their lease.
“It cannot be said that tenants harbored the dog at the premises other than for her visits on periodic occasions,” Judge Javier E. Vargas wrote in dismissing the case on Aug. 24, saying the landlord could not prove that Cookie constituted a “nuisance” or annoyed other tenants.
The case marked a new front in a long-running battle between tenants and landlords over who has a right to keep dogs in a real estate market that pet owners say is increasingly hostile to them, as high demand makes it easier for landlords to choose other renters. Pet owners havedevised creative workarounds, finding ways to photograph their dogs to make them look gentler and even sedating them before co-op board interviews.
Still, many have to choose between a dog and a dream apartment. The Justice Department has stepped into the fray, arguing that building owners must accommodate animals that provide emotional assistance lest they violate the civil rights of residents with disabilities.
Johania González testified that Cookie was a comfort to her teenage daughter, who had been receiving therapy at their Bronx apartment after an operation for scoliosis and had also struggled with anxiety and depression.
But the tenants’ central claim was that they were not keeping Cookie as a permanent pet. Ms. González’s older sister, Elizabeth González, testified that she lived in New Jersey but worked in New York City. Concerned about Cookie spending the day by herself, she dropped the dog off at her sister’s Bronx apartment two to four times a week.
Ms. González’s lawyer, Nestor Rosado, said on Friday that Cookie was “frisky,” but never drew complaints from other residents. He said the family registered Cookie as a therapeutic animal and enrolled her in training classes so she would not bark.
But Anderson Housing Associates, which owns the building, still had concerns. The landlord claimed that the “dog has been observed barking inside the subject premises on numerous occasions,” Judge Vargas wrote in his decision, which was reported this week by The New York Law Journal. The property manager, Ramona Smith, testified that she did patrols up and down the building several times a week and heard the dog barking.
In August 2013, the landlord told Ms. González’s family that she had to remove the dog or face eviction because she was violating her lease. The tenants agreed several times not to harbor any pets and to give the landlord access to search their apartment, but Cookie kept showing up during the day, using the cage and food plates kept there.
Justice Vargas dismissed the case on the grounds that the landlord had not provided a copy of the lease that prohibited dog ownership and that, based on the most recent agreements with the tenants, the landlord also missed a December 2014 deadline to bring action against them.
Even if the landlord had met those obligations, Judge Vargas said, Cookie was still just a visitor.