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Five Secrets To Finding A Pet-Friendly ApartmentIn New York City
by Kimberly Brady
|Searching and searching for the 'right' pet-friendly apartment in this city with no luck? Take heart. Read one woman's quest to find an affordable, pet-friendly apartment for herself and her TWELVE rescue cats and be encouraged Twelve cats and no place to go.
This is how 2008 started for me. My building was going condo, I had a market-rate lease, and a landlord with little incentive to offer me a renewal when my lease expired. With twelve cats, a full-time job, and an almost-fulltime class schedule at Hunter College, I knew it was going to take me longer than the average apartment-hunter to find a new place. I started looking long before my lease was due to expire in March.
I decided from the get-go there would be two 'non-negotiable" items before embarking on what I knew would be a difficult apartment search. One, no cat would be left behind. Wherever I went, my twelve rescue cats would come with me.
Two, I would not lie about requirement number one, even though more than one real estate broker told me point blank I would never find a home if I didn't lie about the cats.
Conviction or Eviction?
Why, you may ask, was I so insistent on not lying about the number of cats I had during my apartment search? Because in the eyes of some landlords, pet owners make for bad tenants.
I didn't want to contribute to what I think is an erroneous perception. I also didn't want the stress of always wondering if I was going to 'get caught', knowing my future landlord would have every legal right to kick me out if I did.
From personal experience (five apartments in 14 years) the worst neighbors I've were not pet owners. There was the one who ripped a giant hole in his apartment door rather than call a locksmith when he locked himself out. Then there was the one who, way behind on his rent, trashed his apartment and left in the middle of the night. Let's not even get started about the ones who played ear-splitting music and tossed their trash out the window instead of the incinerator.
I think animal owners get a bad wrap because the news doesn't report on these 'regular' crazy neighbors but does report on the 'crazy old cat lady' who dies leaving behind 100 cats and one litter box in her apartment. They do not report nearly as often on the dozens (maybe hundreds) of animal rescuers like myself in this city who live quietly without bothering their neighbors.
The first thing I did was consider what would sell me as something other than 'the crazy cat lady" to both realtors and prospective landlords. I told them how I hold down a full-time job and still have a 4.0 GPA. I don't smoke. I have great references. I have a good credit score, and I live alone. (Well, except for twelve cats.)
Only after this introduction did I mention the number of cats I have and, at the same time, mention my willingness to provide additional security deposit. Sometimes it made a difference, sometimes it didn't, but in all cases I knew I had done my best to start things off in my favor.
I sent out emails. Hundreds of them. I checked Craig's List every day, all day long. I contacted rescue groups. I put out feelers to every friend and acquaintance I had, including my vet, who went above and beyond the call of duty looking for me. I joined sites like nofeeapartments.com and petrent.net (they are not very useful unless you have a LOT more money in your budget than I had). I Google'd real estate brokers in NYC who handled properties in areas where I hoped to have luck and to find an apartment I liked.
Is Honesty Really the Best Policy?
My commitment to being honest about the cats cost me.Some brokers refused to work with me. Others said they would only if I lied about the cats. Some gave me a pat on the head. Twice I was put in a position where I was about to sign a lease and only then discovered the realtor had lied to the landlord about my cats.
The worst was the harassment from people who clearly have no understanding of what the homeless animal situation is or what doing animal rescue work entails. One woman replied to my Craigslist posts by telling me "No one wants damage: mites, dander, fleas in carpeting, upholstery and damage of 12 cats, not to mention the urine odors that will constantly linger when you open your door. Let others who have space take care of these cats, not you." It made me wonder about how empty this woman's life must be if she had nothing better than to surf the 'apartments wanted' on Craigslist and send out nasty, condescending emails.
Angels Among Us
An offer of an apartment from a wonderful lady in Middle Village, Queens which, though in the end not a good fit for me, did give me hope. Numerous brokers were willing to go to bat for me, including several in Queens who kept in touch regularly to let me know they had me in mind and three in Manhattan whom I worked with regularly. One wonderful high-end broker who doesn't handle properties in my price range still contacted people on my behalf whom she thought may be able to help. Another broker made probably a hundred calls on my behalf and she and her colleagues hoofed all over the city with me looking at possibilities. One broker kept in touch with me almost daily, even if just to say 'nothing new, but I'm still looking for you!' By the end of my search I was well known around the city. I was touched by the number of people who contacted me simply to offer support
Home Sweet Home
I cannot tell a lie. Yes, there are roadblocks that come with being honest. But I had to stay true to what I believe and who I am. In the long run, I think that was what helped me the most when the right place with the right landlord finally came along.
Today, I have a decent-sized apartment in Harlem, with good air and light. I have a wonderful management company who has been attentive, warm, welcoming and supportive. And my twelve cats are enjoying the windows where they can sit and watch birds and squirrels all day long. We are home.