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Business

HUD charges LI condo complex with discriminating against resident who needed support dogs

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged Pinewood Estates in Commack with discriminating against a disabled resident.  Credit: Morgan Campbell

The federal Department of Housing and Urban Development has charged a Commack condominium complex with discriminating against a disabled resident who said the complex blocked her from keeping her two dogs as emotional support animals.

The agency alleged that Pinewood Estates at Commack and its property management company, Fairfield Properties, violated the Fair Housing Act, failing to make a reasonable accommodation to let the resident keep the two dogs, which help her manage anxiety, panic disorder and panic attacks.

"Assistance animals aren’t pets; they make it easier for persons with disabilities to perform life’s daily functions," Anna María Farías, HUD's Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, said in a statement last week.

Steven Losquadro, an attorney for Melville-based Fairfield Properties, said in a statement that Fairfield Properties "is not the owner of the complex, and is merely the property manager." The policies at Pinewood are set by a board of individual property owners, not by Fairfield, Losquadro said. Fairfield, he said, "actively promotes compliance with all fair housing requirements in the properties that it owns."

Fairfield owns more than 12,000 rental apartments and manages 10,000 condominium, co-op and homeowners' association units on Long Island and in Queens, company officials said.

The complex’s board president, Fred Kleeman, said in a brief phone conversation, "The only thing I can say is that every opportunity was given to" the residents, but he declined to comment further.

People with disabilities who need emotional support animals frequently face housing bias, said Ian Wilder, executive director of the Bohemia-based nonprofit Long Island Housing Services. "People often mistake them for pets and think that they are just a luxury rather than a need for daily living," Wilder said. "An assistance animal is no different from my pair of glasses, or a hearing aid or wheelchair or anything else someone has to help them with a disability."

The case will be heard by an administrative law judge unless one of the parties asks for it to be heard in federal district court, HUD said.

HUD filed the case on behalf of the resident and her mother, who was co-owner of a condo in the 42-unit complex of ranch homes and town houses.

HUD laid out its allegations in the legal papers, blacking out the names of the two residents and their dogs.

The disabled resident and her mother owned two dogs, a small pug and a boxer that weighed more than 30 pounds. When the disabled resident experienced panic attacks, she would lie on the floor or pace until she felt "more in control," HUD attorneys wrote. When she would lie down, one of the dogs would lie with her, "which allows her to cuddle him until she is calm," HUD stated. When she needed to pace, she carried the pug and stroked him, which allowed her to feel better, HUD wrote. Both dogs keep her calm and decrease her anxiety, the agency wrote.

The Commack complex only allowed residents to keep one dog, and only if it weighed 30 pounds or less, according to HUD. However, the two residents believed that they would be allowed to keep both, since the pug was allowed under the rules and the boxer was registered as an emotional support animal, the agency wrote.

The pair moved into the complex in June 2016 with the two dogs. The next month, the complex sent them a letter saying they had violated the pet policy. The residents responded that they had one pet and one emotional support animal — and that they were also registering the pug as an emotional support animal — but the complex "stood by their denial of their request to allow the pug to reside in the unit as a second dog," HUD wrote.

The residents sold the condo in December 2019. Because of the complex’s discriminatory actions, they incurred out-of-pocket expenses and suffered emotional distress, HUD charged. The agency asked the judge to award damages, impose a penalty and issue an order preventing "similar occurrences" in the future.

HUD has filed charges in 35 fair-housing cases so far this year, including 21 cases based on disability, agency statistics show. Last year, HUD filed 33 cases, including 15 based on disability.

The agency said those who believe they have experienced housing bias can file a complaint at hud.gov or by calling 800-669-9777.

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