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Can I Really Lose My Apartment Over an Outdoor Cat?

Category: Finance,Real Estate

Q: I have been renting a ground-floor apartment in a Lower East Side co-op for 13 years. For two and a half years, I’ve had an outdoor cat. He stays inside during the day, and at night uses a cat door that I installed to go out to the building’s courtyard. He occasionally wanders into other building entrances in the complex. I’ve been told that some residents complained to security, and that the board may not approve my lease renewal unless I keep him indoors. This seems cruel. I could walk him on a leash, but even that seems like too much of a restriction. Can the board really deny me a lease renewal over this?

A: As a market-rate rental tenant living in a co-op, your rights are limited. Even if your landlord has no problem with your outdoor cat, the board can override your landlord and deny your renewal if the pet violates the building rules.

The co-op’s rules probably prohibit companion animals from roaming around public areas without a leash or other kind of restraint. While such rules are usually geared toward dogs, “those same rules would prohibit a cat from being loose in any public areas,” said Darryl M. Vernon, a Manhattan real estate lawyer who frequently represents owners of companion animals. To satisfy the board’s demands and keep your apartment, you “should keep the cat indoors and take it to the park” on a leash, Mr. Vernon said.


Outdoor house cats are not a common sight in New York, but they do exist. Even the Netflix series “Russian Doll,” gives a nod to free-roam felines. Nadia, the perpetually doomed character played by Natasha Lyonne, spends many of her lives searching for her lost cat in Tompkins Square Park, leaving it food on her patio and worrying about its fate. While Nadia may be in a battle with death, she is not in a standoff with a co-op board, so she can let her pet roam.

You must decide whether your cat’s need for unfettered outdoor time is worth losing an apartment you’ve had for over a decade. Keep in mind that you may have trouble finding another apartment with easy outdoor access and a landlord who would welcome an outdoor cat that wanders into lobbies. To keep the home you have, you may need to limit your pet’s outdoor time to hours when it can be leashed and supervised.

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