Despite the explicit no-pets clause in the house rules, Ralston and at least 30 other residents have kept dogs in the large 1,900-unit co-op for years, and until recently with little notice or complaint from the complex management. But last fall, residents say, when maintenance workers came to install mandatory carbon monoxide detectors in each apartment, those in the co-op with dogs were reported to the board and sent eviction notices earlier this year."They went around and told the maintenance people to report dogs," Ralston said. "The maintenance guy reported me to the office, and they sent me a letter to terminate the proprietary lease.""There was no rhyme or reason to it. Some of these people have had dogs for 25 years, and there are a lot of senior citizens," said Jack Friedman, chief of staff for City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis). Windsor Park was once a rental complex where pets were permitted, but the complex was converted in the 1980s to a co-operative and the no-pets policy was instituted. Despite the policy, many of the dog-owning renters took the opportunity to buy a share in the co-op."I walked my dog to the closing," said resident Joanne Monte. "They knew we had dogs. We didn't hide them."Residents maintained that the board even published a reminder to pick up after their pets in the monthly newsletter distributed to each apartment. The board began taking legal action against Halston and 35 other residents in December. The Windsor Park residents were intimidated by these eviction notices, threats of lawsuits and the holding of maintenance checks, Friedman said. A representative for the board said these residents knew they were deliberately violating co-op policy."The apartment corporation discovered a number of dogs which they had been previously been unaware of," said Eric Goidel, attorney for the board. "They sought to enforce a clear policy of the apartment corporation prohibiting pets in the complex. All shareholders are made aware of the policy, and they were asked to sign and acknowledge the policy when they moved in, yet a number of shareholders decided to ignore what they agreed to."Complicating matters is the so-called "pet law," which allows city tenants to keep their pets, even in buildings where they are prohibited, if the owner can prove the animal had already been there for 90 days openly and the building management failed to act, Friedman said. Ralston and many of her Windsor Park neighbors have had their dogs for years and would walk them through the apartment lobbies on their way to nearby Cunningham Park, they said."When you have a dog for five years, 10 years, and you're walking it on a daily basis, the onus goes back on the co-op. For years Windsor Park didn't do anything," Friedman said.After residents asked Friedman to step in, he brokered a settlement where the board dropped legal action in exchange for the residents agreeing to register their dogs and also not to replace their pets upon death."They're trying to become a dog-free property, but it's not going to happen overnight," Friedman said. "But I told them, 'we'll help you get these people to register their dogs.'"There are some tenants who have refused to sign the agreement, such as Ralston, on the advice of her lawyer, Maddy Tarnofsky."It's pretty clear to me that no tenant should be signing these things without speaking to a lawyer," Tarnofsky said. "They're trying to keep more animals from coming in, but you're giving away rights you could have for the next 30 years." She said she is confident the board will drop all legal action against Ralston.Many suspect the co-op began pursuing pet owners in earnest because of a pending bill sponsored by City Councilwoman Melinda Katz (D-Forest Hills) that would allow New York City tenants to replace a pet if it died. "That was something that concerned the co-op board," Friedman said. "So the Windsor Park co-op decided to enforce this policy more vigorously." Goidel said 15 of the 35 tenants have already signed the agreement and legal actions have been dropped against seven others. But a final point of contention has been the board imposing legal fees onto the parties' maintenance charges for February."There's a $375 legal fee charged on many people's maintenance," Friedman said. "The co-op does not want to get rid of it. We've asked the co-op to consider dropping those fees. I would consider it a show of good faith on the co-op's part."You can't start this with people who already have animals," he said. "It's inhumane to take a dog from the families."Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@times
©2005 Community News Group
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