Accommodating residents with allergies in pet-friendly buildings

Here in New York City, many of us live in very close proximity to our neighbors -- and to their pets. Many co-ops in the city allow residents to have pets. This can present an issue for co-op boards if other residents have allergies to animals.

Just because a building is pet-friendly, that doesn't mean that residents with animal allergies must simply suffer. People with allergies to animal fur and dander don't necessarily have to be around animals to have an allergic reaction. They may be exposed to dander and fur in the common laundry area if people use these facilities to wash pet bedding. As anyone with dogs or cats knows, even sheets and clothing can contain plenty of hair and remnants let by their pets.

Of course, fur and dander can also remain in the common areas, in carpets, elevators and furniture. As one allergy and immunology professor at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine put it, "This stuff is just so ambient in the environment. We're all being exposed to it all the time."

Co-op boards can and should find a way to be sensitive to their residents who have pet allergies while allowing others to have four-legged family members. If a resident reports that pet hair and dander in a particular area, such as the laundry room, is triggering his or her allergies, that complaint shouldn't be ignored.

Under New York City's Human Rights Law, building owners and landlords are required to provide reasonable accommodations for the disabilities of their residents. Residents could sue for discrimination if the board doesn't make accommodations for their disability -- in this case, their allergy. They can also file a claim with the city's Commission on Human Rights. If a discrimination lawsuit is filed, individual board members can be held liable since discrimination is illegal.

Some buildings require that pet-related laundry be washed and dried only in designated machines. This is a reasonable accommodation that shouldn't present a burden to residents or cost additional money.

If residents feel that their concerns are heard and respected, they are less likely to take legal action. However, if you hear from a resident's attorney or if you're concerned that one of them may be preparing to take such action, you should consult with your co-op board's attorneys. They can provide guidance on the best course of action given the specific circumstances.

Source: New York Times, "Pet Allergies in a Pet-Friendly Building," Ronda Kaysen, Nov. 12, 2016