Press-Republican

December 5, 2012

Couple still in home despite dog-departure deadline

By JOE LoTEMPLIO
Press-Republican

---- — PLATTSBURGH — Robert and Theresa Duell have refused to comply with the “no-pets” policy that says they must get rid of their dog or be evicted from their mobile home.

But the landlord says the eviction process will go forward.

“This is a debate about adhering to strict rules and regulations of a mobile-home park versus keeping a pet, and these rules are being applied equally to everyone in the park,” said Joseph Mucia, the attorney for Phyllis Gregory, the landlord of Abenaki Mobile Home Park.

‘NO PLACE TO GO’

The elderly Duells have lived in the park for 30 years. They were told recently that they must either get rid of their dog, Tiny, an 8-pound Chihuahua that they’ve had for the past four years, or move out.

Mr. Duell, 80, says his wife, who is 78 and suffers from severe hearing loss, needs the dog to warn her of visitors when he is not home.

They have a note from a doctor saying that the dog helps Mrs. Duell by alerting her when people come to the door.

But when Mr. Duell went to pay the rent on Nov. 1, he was told by Gregory that she would not take the payment and that they had to be out of the park or get rid of the dog by Dec. 1.

Since their mobile home is a 1973 model, it is out of compliance and cannot be moved to another location.

“We have no place to go, and it’s getting cold out now,” Mr. Duell said.

Heartsick over the thought of parting with their beloved Tiny, the Duells decided to challenge Gregory’s missive.

“We been here 30 years, and we never bothered anybody,” Mr. Duell said. “She (Gregory) always told us that we were the best tenants and never caused any problems.”

Mr. Duell said he was never told before that they had to get rid of the dog and that he did not know the lease had a “no pet’’ clause.

He said he has been in contact with the New York State Attorney General’s Office in Plattsburgh to see if something can be done legally to allow them to keep Tiny.

DISABILITIES AND ANIMALS

Glen Michaels, the attorney general’s local representative, said he could not comment on any investigation that may or not be in the process. But he did say that any disabled citizen should contact his office if a business or landlord does not appropriately accommodate an animal that is needed to help with a disability.

Michaels pointed to a section of the Fair Housing Act that specifically addresses service animals.

The law says that people with a disability may have a service animal live with them, regardless of a “no-pets’’ policy.

“The definition of service animals under the Fair Housing Act is broader than that under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act),” the law reads. “Animals that provide comfort or emotional support do not qualify as service animals under the ADA but may qualify under the Fair Housing Act.”

The law also says the “animal need not be specifically trained as a service animal if it provides physical or emotional support, lessens the effect of the person’s disability and is necessary for the person to be able to fully enjoy the housing.”

‘IGNORING RULES’

Mucia questioned the validity of the Duells’ claim that the dog is medically necessary.

“There are hearing aids that are available and covered by Medicaid, and there are special doorbells,” he said.

“We just don’t think this is medically necessary to have a dog. This is a pet.”

Mucia said Gregory is also applying the park rules to several other tenants who have pets and that some of them have complied by getting rid of the animals.

“The Duells have been given multiple opportunities to abide by the rules, and they have chosen to ignore them,” Mucia said.

“When you ignore rules, there are consequences, and in this case it is an eviction process.”

The case is expected to go to court, and Mucia said it could be several weeks before anything is resolved.

The Duells said they are praying for an answer.

“Hate is a bad thing and a bad way to feel, and I don’t want to feel that way,” Mr. Duell said.

“I could have said a lot of things to her (Gregory), but that is not going to solve anything, and it is not a solution to the problem. I just keep praying that this comes out good.”

Email Joe LoTemplio:

jlotemplio@pressrepublican.com