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The Scruffy Dilemma

Nicholas Quiles, may he rest in peace, was an outspoken board member of Parkchester North Condominium. He even threatened my life over a case, Parkchester North Condominium v. Nicholas Quiles.

Parkchester North Condominium is a 4,000-unit complex in the Parkchester section of the Bronx. Together with the 8,000-unit Parkchester South Condominium, they form one of the largest such enclaves in the city – and in the country. This place is big.

Nicholas Quiles, a resident there, was a key player in the shifting alliances that made up a 23-member board of managers. At the time, in the early ’90s, the holder of unsold units at Parkchester North was an entity controlled by the Helmsley organization. It was a tough place to manage and had a tough board. The $15 million-dollar budget was barely enough to make ends meet, and to raise common charges meant that some unit-owners would not be able to keep up with their payments. However, the entire complex has benefited enormously over the past few years from new capital infusion and from the sale of the unsold units to a forward-looking group led by the Community Preservation Corporation.

There had been a growing issue at Parkchester about people not cleaning up after their dogs. The “pooper scooper” law does not apply to the grounds at the condominium complex because they are privately owned. As part of Parkchester North’s early efforts to clean up its grounds, the board decided that it would reconsider a house rule already on the books that prohibited dogs in Parkchester North. The discussion was typical: either enforce the house rule prohibiting dogs or revise the rule so that unit-owners could keep pets with the usual provisos that the pet be registered and that proof of appropriate inoculations be supplied. Residents who did not clean up their dog’s waste would be barred from owning a dog at the complex. Nicholas Quiles spoke against the resolution and told the board, as I recall, that he would not comply with any house rule that did not allow him to keep his dog.

As it happened, the board passed a resolution which not only reaffirmed the existing pet prohibition, but also provided that those who had dogs would be notified that if they failed to comply with the rule, the condo would take action to enforce it. At several meetings following the adoption of the resolution, Quiles voiced his objections and told the board that his family had a dog that they loved. He challenged the board to sue him, saying that he would fight to keep his dog. If memory serves correctly, the dog was a scruffy little terrier. I cannot recall its name, but it could have been Scruffy. “Scruffy” became a rallying point for the dog-lovers at Parkchester North. Quiles had taken his fight to the people.

The president of the board and the managing agent for the condominium both consulted with me about the embarrassing situation that Quiles’s very vocal objections were creating. Not only was the condominium being portrayed as run by unfair, heartless dog-haters, but Quiles was also encouraging others to refuse to comply with the rule. He even stated his defiance at board meetings he visited. The board was concerned, and rightfully so, that the failure to enforce the rule against Quiles would be an invitation for other dog-lovers to defy the board. From a lawyer’s point of view, failure to enforce against Quiles would be proof that the rule was not being equally and consistently applied to all unit-owners. Upon such proof, the rule would become unenforceable.

The board of managers of Parkchester North Condominium v. Nicholas Quiles was a supreme court action brought in the Bronx Supreme Court. The complaint against Quiles asked the court to declare that the board had the power and authority to prohibit pets, to declare that Quiles had violated the rule by harboring Scruffy, and to permanently enjoin Quiles from keeping Scruffy or any other pet in his apartment in violation of the rule. Quiles’s defense was the New York City “pet law.”

The pet law was passed in New York City during the co-oping craze of the 1980s to prevent unscrupulous landlords from warehousing apartments in which they knew that tenants were violating their leases by harboring a dog. The landlords would wait until the building was about to go co-op, and then seek to evict the tenants. The usual result of such cases was that tenants would either buy the apartment or be evicted. The pet law prevented this unfair result by providing that a landlord is deemed to have waived any objection to the presence of a pet if proceedings are not started within three months of discovering the pet. Quiles had had Scruffy for years – with the board’s knowledge – before the condo decided to enforce the rule.

The interesting thing about the pet law is that it is applies both to landlords and tenants. The law specifically says that it applies to leases and refers to the start of an action or proceeding “to enforce a lease provision” prohibiting pets. There were a number of cases that had been decided by the courts that prohibited co-ops from enforcing the provisions of a proprietary lease where the tenant-shareholder had harbored a dog for more than three months. There is no lease in a residential condominium. The unit-owner receives a deed, not a lease. Not surprisingly, there were no cases that applied the pet law to condominiums decided in the first judicial department covering Manhattan and the Bronx. The second judicial department, which covers Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island, had previously decided that, in fact, the pet law applied to condominiums because the law did not specifically exclude them. However, the court decided in Quiles that the pet law did not apply to condominiums. The case received wide coverage on Spanish-language television and in local newspapers. (Incidentally, I received a death threat.) And Quiles appealed.

The appellate division for the first judicial department affirmed the finding of the supreme court, and said, “On the merits, we agree that the Pet Law (Administrative Code of City of N.Y. Section 27-2009.1), which refers only to ‘covenants contained in multiple dwelling leases,’ is not applicable to condominiums, which are a form of fee ownership.... We disagree with the Second Department that condominiums should be deemed covered by the Pet Law because not explicitly excluded.... It was because of the singular reference to leases or rental agreements in the warranty of habitability...that we likewise refused to apply it to condominiums...”

Quiles lost and, according to the law, Scruffy had to go.

I never learned what happened to Scruffy after the decision. I do know that Quiles became terminally ill with cancer. I recall that he claimed he needed Scruffy because of a disability. I advised the manager and president of the property, generally, that if there were a specific need to keep the pet that arose out of the disability, the rule prohibiting pets could not be used to take away Scruffy. I sincerely hope that the board and Nicholas Quiles worked it out to everyone’s satisfaction.

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