Denise Buffa, CTNow, Reporting
A disabled woman is facing eviction because she has a 3-pound Chihuahua, although one lawyer says her condo board would be breaking the law by ousting her.
Georgie, a 5-year-old Chihuahua, moved in with Jean Banks, 45 — who suffers from a severe learning disability, depression, anxiety, and Lupus — in late 2009, according to her 25-year-old daughter, Jennifer Banks. They rent a one-bedroom unit at The Lions Condominiums in Danbury from unit owner Jason Martin — and their lease neither allows nor prohibits pets.
However, condo rules show that only owners who live in their units can have pets — and tenants renting units cannot.
The Banks’ landlord has been hounded by the condo board since March 2010 to get little Georgie out of his unit, based on letters from the board to him provided by the Banks family. Martin’s received more than five letters regarding the Banks family pet, including mention that the board had levied more than $2,000 worth of fines against him.
“As the unit owner, it is your responsibility to ensure that your tenant complies with the Rules and Regulations that were designed to benefit all in the community,” one letter partly states.
Jennifer Banks says the landlord growled: get rid of Georgie or vacate the premises. She says he then asked them to sign a letter stating they are aware of the dog ban for tenants — and it’s included in their lease. She says she didn’t know about the ban – and the lease never mentioned it. Martin had no immediate comment. Attempts to reach the board were unsuccessful.
The letters were written on Scalzo Property Management stationery. Jay Metcalfe, who helps manage The Lions for Scalzo, said the firm just enforces the rules imposed by the board.
“We don’t really have a position,” Metcalfe said.
Georgie is far more than a dog to Jean Banks, according to Jennifer Banks, who lives in unit with her mom and 77-year-old grandmother, Beverly Banks, who also suffers from anxiety and depression, besides having arthritis and a pacemaker. The Chihuahua gives Jean and Beverly Banks comfort, Jennifer Banks said.
“For them, Georgie is more like therapy,” said Jennifer Banks, who started an electronic petition to keep Georgie on thepetitionsite.com.
A doctor agrees. In a Feb. 22 letter, Dr. Mary Blackman asked the condo board to make an exception — and allow Jean Banks to keep her dog in her apartment.
“Her dog provides tremendous psychological/emotional support for the patient,” Blackman said in part.
One lawyer says that’s not enough, as far as he can tell. Attorney Rudy Moreno, a Hartford lawyer who usually represents landlords, predicts a housing court judge would tell the Banks family they have to either get rid of Georgie or move because the lease does not specifically state that pets are permitted.
“There’s usually a clause that says a dog is permitted,” Moreno said. “It doesn’t say she can’t have a dog. It also doesn’t say she can.”
“I think, at the end of the day, she probably would have to get rid of the dog,” he added.
But other lawyers disagree.
David Pels of Greater Hartford Legal Aid said, generally speaking, because Banks is disabled, she should be able to keep Georgie.
“If there’s a letter from a medical professional that says that the dog is a therapy dog, under the Federal Fair Housing Act, they need to make a reasonable accommodation to let her stay and keep the apartment,” he said.
Erin Kemple, executive director of the Connecticut Fair Housing Center, said that by law the condo board must bend a rule, policy or practice to accommodate a disabled person. She said the condo board has no right to force Banks out of her apartment or to fine her landlord.
“In this case, she would be permitted to stay. This is not a pet…” Kemple said. “That’s generally called a companion animal.”
And the condo board wouldn’t be bending the rules so much, according to Kemple.
“It sounds like allowing her to have a dog wouldn’t be a fundamental alteration because, guess what? Owners can already have animals…” she said. “Their business is going to go on exactly the way it was before.”
Story submitted by WTIC