Furor over cats in 2 N.Y. complexes is resolved

Property owner Met Life abandons its bounty plan

February 29, 2004|By John J. Goldman | John J. Goldman,LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW YORK - Tranquillity returned yesterday to Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village, huge red brick housing complexes on the East Side of Manhattan.

Pet paranoia was over.

It started in December when the Metropolitan Life Insurance Co., the owner of the properties, sent a letter to its housing employees offering a bounty to any worker who discovered a pet in an apartment and notified the complexes' legal department.

The letter promised if an apartment was repossessed or a pet was removed, the person turning in the report would receive a bonus: a $150 American Express gift card.

"Please be aware that this award is contingent upon the success of the legal action," the letter said, "If we are not successful, there will be no award."

Furor erupted when the letter leaked. Tenants accused Met Life of trying to turn workers into snitches.

Some apartment dwellers feared that the handyman they were calling to fix a broken stove or change the washer in a dripping faucet could be a spy.

Pets are forbidden in leases at Stuyvesant Town and Peter Cooper Village. But residents said the clause was presumed to mean dogs, not cats, which have been permitted in the apartments for decades.

"There has always been the understanding you can have cats and not have dogs," said State Assemblyman Steven Sanders, who lives in Peter Cooper Village. "There are hundreds of tenants who have cats. ... It never bothered Met Life before."

"While the lease forbids pets, there was an informal agreement that cats were OK," said Alvin Doyle, president of the Stuyvesant Town-Peter Cooper Village Tenants Association.

Sanders, Doyle and many other residents charged that the cats were being used as a wedge by Met Life to force out longtime tenants, who pay below-market rents. Most apartments in the complexes are covered by rent stabilization guidelines.

But if an apartment is vacated, a landlord can raise the rent significantly.

On Friday, prompted by tenant anger, news reports in the New York Post and the threat by a cat-food manufacturer to raise the ante by paying workers $160 to remain silent, Metropolitan Life abandoned its bounty plan.

"We are happy," Doyle said yesterday. "It really set up the tenants and the employees as adversaries. That, I don't think is good management."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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