How can I get my landlord to allow me to have a pet?
May 14, 2009 10:10 AM   Subscribe

How can I get my landlord to allow me to have a pet?

I live in Queens in NYC in a pretty decent apartment. Rent is good for how much space we have, and this area is nice and quiet. The problem is that my girlfriend and I want to get a cat, but there's a stipulation in the original lease that says no pets. I asked the superintendent of the building, and he also said that they won't really allow pets 'cause it can be a problem with cleanliness and whatever. Ideally we'd get a cat that's a few months/years old and has already been litter-trained, so cleanliness won't really be a problem.

The thing is, I think we've been pretty good tenants. Always paid the rent on time, never had any wild parties or done anything crazy, haven't destroyed anything, and so on.

So what's the best way to petition my landlord to allow me to have a cat? Should I write a letter to them stating the above and asking if we can get a cat? Is there more that I should say in that letter that I haven't thought of? Should I just get a cat anyway and keep it hidden in case my sup comes up for whatever reason? (And as a side note, would it be annoying to ask for a rent decrease in the same letter?)
posted by gchucky to Home & Garden (27 answers total)
1) It seems as though you have asked a couple of times, and they said no and gave their reasons.

2) Writing a letter asking them to bend the rules for you in getting a cat AND ask for a rent decrease in a space where you seem to have a lot of space for the rent you pay is annoying.

Don't do it, and don't do it and hide the cat.
posted by wocka wocka wocka at 10:14 AM on May 14, 2009

Lots of people in NYC have pets they aren't supposed to have. If your landlord said once no, he's probably going to say no again.

Either get the can't or don't but don't be surprised if he asks you to get rid of it if he finds out.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:14 AM on May 14, 2009

If you want to try one more time, offer a larger security deposit and/or a small increase in your monthly rent. This contradicts your wish to pay less in rent overall, of course, but it should help answer the landlord's concerns about the cat causing damage.
posted by handful of rain at 10:16 AM on May 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

As a cat owner, but not a cat person, even a little trained cat causes a mess, can damage your furniture and walls, and leaves a distinctive smell in your apartment.

That said, you can always ask, but he's well in his power to say no. I know people who've gotten away with secret cats for extended periods of time, but it's always a risk you run of getting evicted should your landlord need to access your apartment while you're out and you haven't had time to hide the cat.
posted by Oktober at 10:16 AM on May 14, 2009

Are you willing to move out over the issue? 'Cause if not, you're in a tough negotiating spot. If you are, the best method is probably to wait until it's near the time your lease is up, then let your landlord know you'll only renew if you can get a cat.

Getting a cat may or may not work depending on what your landlord and super are like. From the outside, can you ever see cats sitting in windows of the building? If so, that's usually a good sign that cat-hiding is doable. (I live in a no pets building where the people in the apartment next door not only had two dogs, but also had a "beware of dog" sign on their apartment door, and they didn't seem to get any flack over it. I can also see cats sitting in windowsills all the time.)
posted by phoenixy at 10:20 AM on May 14, 2009

Offer to pay a pet deposit. It doesn't sound like the super is being very clear about this, though. "...or whatever." It just sounds like they want to be reassured that it won't be a problem, and money always helps there, say $200 (for the pet deposit, that is!).
posted by rhizome at 10:22 AM on May 14, 2009

I lived at an apartment where they allowed pets, but I got a cat after I moved in and didn't bother to tell the leasing office. Because of this I lived in constant fear of being discovered. Granted, it may be rare that the super may come into your apartment, there's still that risk. And if they catch you with a pet things probably won't go well, although maybe you could play it off as a "cat-sitting" scenario. My cat was very skittish - so she basically hid when anyone but me was in the apartment, but there's always the litterbox and other tell-tale signs of cat ownership like hairballs and missing cheeseburgers.

So, that being said, it probably wouldn't hurt to ask and explain the situation, your history as a tenant, etc. You might even offer an additional deposit amount - really, the main damage a cat could do is peeing on the carpet and your initial deposit is probalby covering partial carpet replacement anyway. Offering more deposit may help alleviate fears. Then again, a corporate-landlord would probably be much less flexible on this than a regular person who's renting their second home/apartment.

As far as asking for a rent decrease in the same letter, I think that would be stretching it - since both topics are more of an inconvenience to the landlord.

On the other hand, are you set on a cat? Can you have caged animals? A co-worker of mine and his wife love their guinea pigs. They're playful, cute, more personality than other rodents - and you can put them back in their cage/pen when you're done.
posted by JibberJabber at 10:23 AM on May 14, 2009

Have you ever walked around Queens at night (specifically Astoria) and run into a really nice stray cat? How about several? This is pretty common for me. Where do I think they all come from? Sure, some cat's are spayed or neutered, but they had to get there first. Why are they so friendly?

This is the scenario I think of: People who live in buildings that don't allow cats get them anyway. Landlord then finds out. Landlord delivers ultimatum. Cat ends up on street or in a shelter, which is probably where it started life already.

I'm sure you're a really nice person and would never do such a thing to an animal. But if you don't have a permanent, suitable location for the animal I worry that you're being selfish.

Some people are OK with this and I'm not about to judge. And yeah, maybe I'm a little bitter as a lifetime cat owner/onetime breeder seeing all these strays. But just think about it for a little bit. That's all I'm asking.

I mean I can flip this around: If you're saving a cat from euthanasia at a shelter by bending your lease agreement, then of course that's a noble thing. But in the long run it might not ultimately benefit the cat.

TL;DR - Seriously consider this decision beyond the novelty of having (the best kinda bet ever) a cat.
posted by teabag at 10:35 AM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

(And as a side note, would it be annoying to ask for a rent decrease in the same letter?)

You would definitely not get to have a cat if you did this. Also, since you mention that you're already getting a good deal for the amount of space you have, this is kind of a dick move to make. Rent in Queens is not going down as much as it is in Manhattan.

I favorited the comment about asking to get a cat and offering an additional security deposit for damage the cat might cause. And be prepared to kiss that deposit good-bye--even the nicest, cleanest cats cause damage and leave a smell that can be hard to get rid of (and for people with severe allergies, it can also be difficult to move into an apartment that previously housed a cat, even with a good cleaning between tenants). Your landlord might respond to an offer of money, but asking for a cat AND less rent is probably going to get your next lease renewal declined. (If by some miracle the landlord agrees to let you have a cat, get it in writing!)

~Fellow cat-less Queens dweller
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:38 AM on May 14, 2009

Hi, I want a rent decrease, and I want you to allow me to have a cat, who may miss the litterbox, damaging the floor/carpet and causing catpee aroma. Cat mat destroy screens, carpet, woodwork. Cat litter-encrusted cat poop may clog pipes. Cat may run around at night, annoying downstairs neighbor. Cat me get fleas, and share them with neighboring tenants, or leave for next tenants.

Why yes, I used to be a landlord. Yes, I have experienced all of the above. It's unlikely that you will get the decrease plus the rule waiver. Some landlords will let you have a pet if you pay an extra deposit. Point out that you have shown yourself to be a totally responsible tenant, and that having a pet is quite important to you.
posted by theora55 at 10:43 AM on May 14, 2009

Asking for Thing One that your landlord does not want (a cat) as well as asking for Thing Two that your landlord (probably) doesn't want (a reduction in rent) will very probably not work.

You having a cat may in the long term cost the guy more. If you offer a larger deposit or something, or enter into a contract that says you will return the apartment to it's pre-cat state when you move, you might have more luck.

But, if you've already asked twice about getting a cat, and have been told "no" twice, what is it that makes you think that asking again will suddenly make the landlord change his mind? If you want to do things your own way, buy your own property.
posted by Solomon at 10:55 AM on May 14, 2009

While I agree with just about everyone in this thread, don't get a cat, what's with all the cat hate?

A happy and properly cared-for cat doesn't do anything like that. I have four, two are dicks and two are sweethearts, but none of them ruin our furniture or the woodwork. We scoop the litter boxes (three of them) daily. We don't flush the litter even though it's "flushable." We use Frontline and none of the cats (or the dog) have ever gotten fleas or ticks. We have a carpet steamer and a Bissel SpotBot to clean up any messes (bonus for cleaning up wine spills!) Our landlord loves us to death because we keep our apartment clean and none-smelly.

Seriously, be responsible about your animals and you'll never have an issue.
posted by InsanePenguin at 11:01 AM on May 14, 2009 [1 favorite]

And as a side note, would it be annoying to ask for a rent decrease in the same letter?
Hey man, can you do me a favor? I know you said you'd never bail me out of jail again, but can you bail me out of jail?

Oh and can you loan me $100? Cuz that would be totally great if you could.

Yeah. Don't be that person.

As for the cat, a few thoughts:
1) I can't say for sure in NY, but in many places violating the terms of the lease can get you kicked out. Getting a cat would violate your lease. If you do talk them into letting you have a cat, make sure you get a new lease that says its okay.

2) If you want cheaper rent and a cat, why not find another place? You get what you want and are completely in the clear.

3) Why write a letter? Why not meet in person? Unlike a letter, they can't just toss you in the shredder without hearing you out, you can actually have a discussion about the issue and can find out what the "and whatever" is. They can see what a fine upstanding resident you are. And it's hard to say 'no' in person.

4) Every apartment I've lived that has allowed pets has also has an increased security deposit along with it. I wouldn't even bring up the subject of a cat without offering $200 (at very very least) increase in deposit.

5) Don't hide the cat. Cat's don't understand the situation and won't play by your rules. When the super comes over to check the smoke detectors are you really going stay home from work so you can supervise the super and hope to god your cat in the closet shuts the hell up? (Not to mention hiding the cat box, cat toys, cat food and cat carrier.) Do you get regular pest control, and is it safe for pets? If not, what are you going to do about it? Are you tight with your neighbors on all sides? Because if one of them gets cranky from the noise of your cat playing with ping-pong balls at 4am, you could be out on your ass.
posted by Ookseer at 11:04 AM on May 14, 2009

(And as a side note, would it be annoying to ask for a rent decrease in the same letter?)

Possibly annoying, definitely hilarious. C'mon, put yourself in your landlord's position for one moment.

Forget your proposed rent decrease, offer to pay a nonrefundable pet deposit of $200 or so and maaaaaaybe, maybe, you'll have a chance. It wouldn't be unusual to pay another $20/month rent, too.

Bonus if it's a multi-unit dwelling and someone else has convinced the landlord to let them keep a pet.

I say this not as a jaded landlord, but as someone who had a cat who was an indoor-only (no fleas), healthy, non-spraying, litterbox-proficient, non-scratcher. I had a mat under the catbox just in case, never flushed cat poop (WTF?), and vacuumed regularly.
posted by desuetude at 11:13 AM on May 14, 2009

Response by poster: I guess I should have mentioned that this apartment doesn't have any carpeting at all. Like most apartments in the neighborhood, it's all wood floors.

Also, I brought this up largely because my lease is up in a few months, but I was hoping not to have to move just to get a cat.
Have you ever walked around Queens at night (specifically Astoria) and run into a really nice stray cat? How about several? This is pretty common for me.
Yes, I have seen that... 'cause I live in Astoria too, heh.
Seriously consider this decision beyond the novelty of having (the best kinda bet ever) a cat.
I have. There were always at least two cats in the house when I was growing up, so this isn't just some "tee-hee, I want a kitty!" thing; I really do want to own a cat. I'm aware of what it takes to own a cat, including cleanup and all. I don't know what sort of cats everyone has, but the ones we had were never destructive. I mean, yes, they'd destroy their scratching post, but that's what it's made for.
Why write a letter? Why not meet in person? Unlike a letter, they can't just toss you in the shredder without hearing you out, you can actually have a discussion about the issue and can find out what the "and whatever" is. They can see what a fine upstanding resident you are. And it's hard to say 'no' in person.
True, but I've never actually met the landlord, only the sup. Kinda weird, I guess. I think the sup is the owner's brother or cousin or something.

I also work from home, and the sup never comes into my apartment unless I ask him to come and fix/look at something.

This thread has been interesting to read. I knew the rent lowering thing was a longshot; not even sure why I put it in the first post. But I hadn't thought about a pet deposit... hmm. Anyway, thanks to all who responded.
posted by gchucky at 11:15 AM on May 14, 2009

When I first moved to New York, a broker told me that cats don't really count as pets. Instead, they're just over grown pillows. I've lived in several places that said "no pets", brought in a cat, and I haven't had a problem with the super or landlord or owner of the building carrying. The place I'm living in right now originally (in Astoria) said "no pets" on the lease and I had them write in "cats are okay" on the lease itself. For a lot of landlords, cats are not the reason why the "no pet" clause is included in the lease. It's dogs. Landlords dislike dogs.

However, I'm assuming you asked your super about getting a cat, not just getting a pet. And he/she responded that a pet isn't a good idea. If the super, or landlord, or owner, thought that cats were pillows, they would have said "sure but don't tell anyone". You'd also already know about half a dozen other cats that live in your building. But since the landlord said "no cats" and you already asked several times about getting a cat, you're screwed. They don't want a cat and if they find out that you got a cat, you're screwed. Don't forget that there are people who specifically want to live in pet free buildings and if your neighbors find out about your cat, they'll rat on you in a second.

Stick with asking for a rent decrease (and realize you will be laughed at and possibly not allowed to renew your lease). If you like to live dangerously, get a cat and smuggle it in. Or, better yet, move. If you're unwilling to move to get a cat, then you probably don't have the commitment levels necessary to even take care of a cat.
posted by Stynxno at 11:18 AM on May 14, 2009

If the landlord has already said no so many times, I can't imagine he's going to give you an exception - the rest of the building is going to start demanding the same. And to stack this on top of a rent decrease? He might just refuse to renew when your lease is up, or passive aggressively evict you by jacking the new rent up to an amount he knows you won't pay. It's probably easier on everybody if you found a new apartment in a building that allows pets.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 11:18 AM on May 14, 2009

So what's the best way to petition my landlord to allow me to have a cat?

Just ask. The 'no pets' thing is just a standard rental clause, your landlord may not actually care. If you just straight up ask him, he might say yes. If you're willing to move out over the cat issue then its worth mentioning it to him, but not in a 'let us have a cat or we walk' kind of way. I'd let him know that you wont be renewing because you want to get a cat, he might be willing to negotiate on that point to keep good tenants (and not have to bother looking for new tenants)

And as a side note, would it be annoying to ask for a rent decrease in the same letter?

Yes. Don't do this, you'll likely end up with neither.
posted by missmagenta at 11:38 AM on May 14, 2009

Perhaps you could get a doctor to write you a prescription for a pet, due to depression. I think I've heard that if you have to get a pet on a doctor's orders, particularly to help get you over your depression, they have to let you keep it.
posted by Simon Barclay at 12:24 PM on May 14, 2009

i lived in an apartment a few years ago where the lease stipulated "no pets" but when i asked about getting a cat, the rental agency said i could if i got renter's insurance to cover any possible damage the cat might do to the property. so that's what i did. it ended up being maybe a hundred and fifty bucks a year? i don't live in that apartment anymore, but i still have my cats. i can't imagine life without them!
posted by fancyoats at 12:32 PM on May 14, 2009

Best answer: Some good advice here (offer to pay an additional security deposit) and some bad advice as well (go ahead and get a cat and pretend you're pet sitting if you get caught). A letter may work, but you will have to go beyond just asking and try to assuage your landlord's concerns about allowing pets. I would write something like this:

Dear Landlord,

I would like to discuss the possibility of [girlfriend] and I adopting a cat. I understand that our lease currently does not allow for this and that you have some very valid concerns about allowing pets in your building. Please allow me to address some possible concerns you may have about the matter.

We are prepared to take the steps necessary to ensure that the cat would not cause damage to the apartment or disturb the other tenants in the building. For example, we will clean the litter box daily and place plastic sheeting underneath it so that any accidental "overflow" will not come into contact with the flooring. We will also train the cat to use a scratching post (and only a scratching post), and will keep the cat's claws trimmed/use a product like Softpaws if necessary.

I work from home, so the cat would receive plenty of supervision and attention. I am an experienced cat owner, having had several throughout my childhood, and I am both fully aware of what kind of care a cat requires and committed to providing my cat with everything s/he needs.

We would also like to offer to pay an additional amount toward our security deposit to ensure that any issues caused by the cat's presence will be taken care of.

We hope you will consider allowing us to have a cat, as we feel that we have proven to be responsible tenants during our time living here; our rent is always on time, we are quiet and respectful of our neighbors and we are careful not to cause damage to your property. Please call me to discuss this at [phone number]/I will call you on Wednesday to discuss this further.

gchucky [or your real name]
posted by kitty teeth at 12:53 PM on May 14, 2009 [3 favorites]

Kitty teeth's sample letter is a very good one. In addition to this and all the suggestions upthread, I'd also mention that the cat will be spayed/neutered, will receive regular veterinary care, and you will ensure it is cared for by a catsitter or boarded when you are away.

My experience has been that most landlords (all that I've approached) who initially say, "NO PETS" are open to changing this policy if you demonstrate that you are a careful and responsible pet owner.

My strategy has been to create a pet renter's resume to accompany my renter's resume when I am looking at new housing- I put a cute picture of the cat at the top then briefly describe our cat and his habits and make sure to specify that he is spayed and receives regular veterinary attention. I include the names of previous landlords who have liked our cat as well as our vet's name and phone number.

Obviously since you don't yet have a cat you can't take that approach, but making sure that you appear thoughtful and responsible in your request (the written letter is a great approach rather than, "Hey Joe Sup, can I have a cat?") seems to me to be the key. You might mention where you plan to take the cat for veterinary care, if approved, and include the phone numbers of any previous landlords who have rented to you while you have had a cat as a personal reference for your responsibility.
posted by arnicae at 1:37 PM on May 14, 2009

Perhaps you could get a doctor to write you a prescription for a pet, due to depression. I think I've heard that if you have to get a pet on a doctor's orders, particularly to help get you over your depression, they have to let you keep it.

If this really would apply to you, there's a pretty good write-up of the requirements to request a reasonable accommodation for a service/companion animal here.

If this does not, please don't take advantage so that you make your landlord more skeptical of someone who really needs to make use of the fair housing laws in the future.
posted by chiababe at 2:14 PM on May 14, 2009

Just commenting on the whole keeping a cat in secret thing. My husband and I did this once. Just moved in, knowing we already had a cat and that it was explicitly not allowed. Turns out my cat runs around at night and this annoyed my downstairs neighbors so much (they were fucking ridiculous btw and self-righteously banged at their ceiling with a broom whenever ANY sounds came out of our apartment from thereon, including me doing yoga at 3pm on a Tuesday) that they went ahead and called my landlord to let him know we had a cat.

My landlord was pretty pissed. A lot of letter writing went back and forth between his lawyer and ours. Ultimately in PA it wasn't enough of a case to get us evicted, and landlord knew that and didn't bring it to court (though would've in a heartbeat if he thought he could kick us out). Obviously we didn't renew our lease, but we did live out the remainder of it with cat in tow.

It was a pretty tense year for me, to put it mildly.
posted by sickinthehead at 2:52 PM on May 14, 2009

Best answer: In New York City there is a law, commonly referred to as the Pet Law, which states that a no-pet clause in a lease is waived if a tenant keeps a pet openly and notoriously, the landlord knew or should have known about the pet, and the landlord does not commence an eviction proceeding in three months. It was passed because landlords were unofficially letting tenants keep pets for years and then using long-ignored no-pet clauses to evict low paying tenants. IAAL, but I am not going to give legal advice over the internet. If you want more information, google "New York City" "pet law" and you will get results with information and advice of varying qualities. Google "Siiri Marvits" and learn about the legal saga of an elderly cat owner.

This is not legal advice, but I have to say as an animal lover that getting a cat and relying on the Pet Law is incredibly risky for the cat. Don't do it unless you are able to say with 100% certainty that if you are discovered and if your landlord sues to evict you, you will move and take your cat with you. Do not be the person who abandons your pet due to a housing issue. And do not assume that no-kill rescues will be able to take your cat. With the economy and foreclosures, most are stretched to the absolute limit. (Also, being sued for any reason sucks, and you want to think long and hard about whether you want to risk that. Another also, being sued in NYC may make it very hard for you to find another apt b/c you will be branded a problem tenant. Google "tenant blacklist.")

All that being said, there are a lot of landlords in NYC who don't give a flying flip about tenants who have clean cats. If you haven't asked the actual landlord, it can't hurt to ask, explain why you think you can have a cat without damaging his property, and offer to pay an extra deposit. (If you're in a rent-regulated apt, it may be illegal to require an additional deposit in NYC, but I'm not going to go do research on that issue.)
posted by Mavri at 3:37 PM on May 14, 2009

NYC Pet Law.
posted by hermitosis at 4:30 PM on May 14, 2009

Perhaps you could get a doctor to write you a prescription for a pet, due to depression. I think I've heard that if you have to get a pet on a doctor's orders, particularly to help get you over your depression, they have to let you keep it.

Please please please do not do this. Selfish abuse of laws protecting those with disabilities is stooping pretty damn low.
posted by desuetude at 5:28 PM on May 14, 2009 [5 favorites]

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