About 75 cooperators met last week to discuss our current pet policy and review some possible alternatives.
We started by outlining some basic facts:
- East River Coop has a strict no-pet policy. (That’s right: no pets, not just dogs.)
- Prospective buyers get a home visit specifically to look for signs of dogs. (Cats do seem to get a pass.)
- All new owners must sign a separate rider acknowledging that they do not own a dog and will not bring a dog to live in East River.
- There are people who move here specifically because of that no-pet policy. It’s not there by mistake. It’s what cooperators here have expected and wanted for years.
City and federal laws make this policy difficult to enforce:
- NYC’s pet law states that anyone who has a dog out in the open for 90 days without being given a notice to cure by management can keep the dog. So management needs to act fast to have any hope of getting rid of a dog.
- The Americans with Disabilities Act and Fair Housing Act state that anyone with a disability gets an exception to a no-pet rule. Emotional support animals are no different from seeing-eye dogs.
Recent events helped shape our discussion:
- Over the past five years, East River’s board and management have increased enforcement of the no-pet policy, sending notices to cure within 90 days and threatening cooperators with eviction. Legal fees in that time have increased more than $1.2 million.
- Three cooperators who were denied emotional support exceptions complained to the department of Housing and Urban Development, the federal office that enforces the Fair Housing Act, that East River Coop had violated their rights. Subsequently, the U.S. government sued East River Housing for discrimination.
- The settlement of that case makes clear that broad accommodation must be given to anyone with a disability who can get a letter of support from a health professional.
Cooperators broke up into two groups — pro and con — to form competing policy proposals. A third group of cooperators who could see both sides challenged the proposals when they were presented to the whole group.
Team 2 Legs did not want dogs at East River. Since they did not want to see the current policy change, they were tasked with outlining enforcement guidelines.
They used the example of Waterside Plaza, where a no-dog policy is strictly enforced by building staff. Security cameras are monitored at all entrances and any dog seen entering the property is targeted quickly for a notice to cure. Dogs are not permitted to visit the buildings at all.
Dogs that currently live at East River, or any new support animals, would need to be registered with management; a tag would identify these dogs as permitted. Security staff would be responsible for checking tags for all dogs entering the coop. (Our security contract may need to be revised to make this an explicit part of the job description; guards could also be given incentives for catching unregistered dogs.)
The goal of policy enforcement would be to cut down on the lawsuits that have sapped the coop’s finances. Vigilance by staff on the ground should limit the need for lawyers. And consistent application of the no-dog policy would signal to others that it’s not worth trying to game the system.
Pet-friendly East River
Team 4 Legs emphatically wanted East River to become a pet-friendly coop. They worked together to develop a proposal for a new policy that would admit dogs to the coop, with some regulations.
By and large, they followed a model that Hillman has adopted on a trial basis, allowing for registration, DNA testing, and behavioral restrictions. (Hillman board member Mathew Quezada, who is also an East River shareholder, attended the meeting and was very encouraging of Hillman’s year-old new policy.)
Dog-lovers emphasized that size and breed did not determine a dog’s behavior, and that bad behavior can and should be regulated. In Hillman, for example, a first complaint is investigated, a second complaint mandates behavior training, and a third complaint allows the coop to evict the dog. Quezada said that Hillman has over 30 registered dogs and only a handful of complaints, all of which have been settled without escalation.
DNA testing in Hillman allows management to investigate whose dog is pooping on the property, and fines can then be added to a cooperator’s monthly maintenance.
Our meeting was weighted heavily toward dog-lovers, but that may just be an indication of their passion — no one has yet determined whether there is a majority of cooperators in favor of changing East River’s policy.
Cooperatively Yours will attempt to gauge interest in a policy change with a survey conducted over the next two weeks. (Though only a full vote by shareholders can change our rules.)