Gateway Plaza residents fight lease pet rider claw and nail

Gateway Plaza resident John Lindblom, owner of a 210-pound English mastiff named Wally, being interviewed about the newly imposed lease rider at Gateway Plaza that would prohibit certain breeds and limit dogs to 40 pounds and under. Downtown Express photo by Terese Loeb Kreuzer

BY TERESE LOEB KREUZER  |  Ever since Gateway Plaza opened in Battery Park City 30 years ago, the complex of 1,712 apartments has been pet friendly — but not anymore.

Renewal leases with a restrictive pet rider began to appear in early July. The 19-point rider prohibited certain breeds of dogs such as Great Danes, Doberman pinschers and German shepherds. Dogs weighing more than 40 pounds were no longer to be allowed. Tenants were to be limited to one dog per apartment and charged an annual fee of $250 per pet. Dogs had to be registered with management, and cats had to be neutered and declawed.

The response was outrage and alarm.

In an Aug. 24 letter addressed to Gateway Plaza residents, Greg Tumminia, the general manager, justified the pet rider restrictions by saying they were put in place because of improvements to the property and management’s wish “to create a safe and comfortable living environment for our residents.”

Many Gateway Plaza tenants are rent-stabilized because of an agreement reached with the Battery Park City Authority in 2009. It conferred rent-stabilization benefits on existing tenants in exchange for millions of dollars of ground lease rollbacks for the LeFrak Organization, the owner of the property.

“We believe that putting any rider in leases breaches the 2009 rent-stabilization agreement,” said Glenn Plaskin, who heads the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association.

New York State Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver sides with this belief. Late last month, he wrote to Richard LeFrak, the C.E.O. of the LeFrak Organization, saying the new pet rider violates the terms of the agreement. “In 2009, we came to an agreement to extend rent increase limitations to a number of Gateway residents…I ask that [the pet rider] be taken out of renewal leases.”

In response, Gateway Plaza management began to backtrack. The regulation stating that cats would have to be neutered and declawed was the first to be rescinded, and each succeeding announcement to tenants has removed some of the restrictive provisions.

An Aug. 28 letter to the residents said that there would be no annual $250 fee per pet, and that the weight and dog breed restrictions referenced in the pet rider would only apply to new pets. “All pets in residence as of Aug. 1, 2012 are exempt from weight and breed restrictions,” according to the letter.

However, it still required that pets be registered with the management office. Pets would be photographed and issued a numbered registration tag, the letter said, and registration would begin in mid-September.

Jeff Galloway, who founded the Battery Park City Dog Association with his wife, Paula Galloway, said he would not be registering his dogs. “My dogs are licensed by the City of New York,” he said. “If a dog causes a problem, [the management] already know the tenants.”

Moreover, in the opinion of the Gateway Plaza Tenants Association, the softening of the pet rider provisions missed the essential point, at least as it applies to rent-stabilized tenants. “According to an agreement that was carefully hammered out and agreeable to all, it doesn’t matter if it’s a rider about cotton candy and fudge,” said Plaskin. “There can be no rider. That’s non-negotiable.

“If the building wants to post rules about pet etiquette or that kind of thing, that’s fine,” he continued, “but you can’t change this contract.”

Though the rent-stabilized tenants seem to have some clear legal protections, the situation for non-rent-stabilized tenants is less clear. As of Aug. 30, it seemed, according to Plaskin, that Gateway Plaza tenants who were not rent-stabilized could be evicted when their leases came up for renewal if they had dogs weighing more than 40 pounds.

But that, too, seemed to be changing. Management seemed to have decided that tenants who lived in the building as of Aug. 31, 2012 would not be subjected to quantity, pet size or breed restrictions. However, this policy would not apply to new tenants.

Galloway and Plaskin said they were opposed to creating two tiers of tenants — those who could have any number of dogs of any breed and size, and those who were restricted.

Sid and Terry Baumgarten, who own a 70-pound Plott hound named Puccini and have lived in Gateway Plaza for 23 years, called the proposed regulations, whether they apply to existing or new tenants, absurd. “Why say that no dog can be over 40 pounds?” Sid Baumgarten asked. “Why is 45 pounds different than 39 pounds? And they said ‘no hunting or guard dogs.’ A beagle is technically a hunting dog. So is a dachshund.”

He noted that a lot of people would not have moved to Gateway Plaza were it not friendly to dogs.

John Lindblom and his wife, Dani Lindblom, said that if the couple had to choose between signing a new, restrictive lease and giving up their canine, they would move. They own a 210-pound English mastiff named Wally and moved into Gateway Plaza seven months ago.

John Lindblom said that, despite some verbiage in their lease about pets, they were told they could have whatever pets they wanted — as long as the pets were well-behaved. “It’s a little frustrating to be placed in the middle of these circumstances,” said Lindblom. “As far as we know, we haven’t done anything wrong.” While Gateway Plaza is a great facility, he added, “It’s unfortunate that they’ve put stipulations around pets.”

The situation still seems to be in flux, leaving tenants whose leases are up soon on uncertain ground. “We are telling tenants that, in our opinion, if they are covered by the rent-stabilization agreement, this is a violation of the agreement, and they shouldn’t need to sign the pet rider,” said Galloway. “Unless you are facing an imminent decision, I would say hold tight, because the situation changes every day.”

Most of the dogs at Gateway are socialized and safe, according to Plaskin. “You cannot punish an entire pet population because there are a few dogs that are aggressive,” he said.

Galloway agreed, saying, “If landlords think they can deal with normal problems by imposing draconian restrictions on everybody, that’s something that everybody should worry about.”

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