Not in Westchester County?
September 23, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Service dog at center of disabled owner’s eviction dispute in Orange County

A disabled woman who relies on a service dog is trying to stop a Chappaqua company from evicting her from an apartment.

Patricia Milhaven, 60, sued Creekside Apartments on March 18 in federal court in White Plains claiming violation of the Fair Housing Act.

Milhaven lives in the 64-unit complex with Penny, a 3-year-old, 43-pound female English bulldog, full name Penelope Grace Milhaven, who has been the subject of several complaints.

Milhaven, the tenant, contends that the landlord tried to evict her without cause. After Legal Services of the Hudson Valley got that action dropped, she claims that the landlord stopped collecting rent and renewed the eviction case for nonpayment.

Creekside Apartments is in Warwick, Orange County, and is owned by Country Village Associates, an affiliate of Wilder Balter Partners Inc. of Chappaqua.

Creekside did not immediately respond to email and telephone messages asking for comment.

The apartment complex is marketed for disabled and elderly tenants and Milhaven has lived there since 2015. She has muscular sclerosis that limits her movement, vision, thinking and energy.

Penny is a registered service dog trained specifically to assist Milhaven. For instance, she can identify when Milhaven is about to have an MS episode and help calm her, according to a letter from Dr. Howard Rothenberg, a veterinarian at Goosepond Animal Hospital in  Monroe.

Milhaven pays $221 of the $683 monthly rent, plus a yearly $250 fee for Penny. The rest is subsidized by the U.S. Department of Agriculture under the state Rural Rental Assistance Program.

Creekside notified her in August that it would not renew her lease when it expired at the end of September, “as you continually break the pet rules as if they are not meant for you.”

The letter cited four complaints by residents who said Penny was seen outside without a leash and Milhaven did not clean up the grounds after Penny pooped. One resident said Penny had acted aggressively toward a grandchild.

Milhaven walks with a cane and cannot hold a leash in her hand, according to her lawsuit, so she attaches the leash to her waist. She alleges that three violation notices are based on complaints by one “emotionally disturbed tenant” who is hostile toward her because of her disability.

Legal Services attorney Jaime Samarel challenged the eviction, citing, for example, a federal subsidized housing regulation that requires “good cause” to terminate a lease, and not just the expiration of a lease.

Creekside withdrew the eviction case from Warwick Justice Court.

Then the landlord allegedly stopped collecting Milhaven’s rent for four months and renewed the eviction case for nonpayment.

“My client has taken no action to impede your client’s receipt of monthly rent,” Milhaven’s new attorney, Michael Sussman of Goshen, wrote to the landlord’s attorney in January, “but since your last failed eviction effort your client has failed to access funds available to pay this rent.”

Sussman also argues that Creekside’s pet rules do not comply with service dog regulations by, for instance, banning pets from community rooms and common areas.

Warwick Judge Nancy DeAngelo approved an eviction warrant on March 14 and ordered Milhaven to pay $1,336 in back rent.

Milhaven is asking federal court to stop the eviction and order the landlord to renew the lease and to cease harassing her on the basis of her disability.

“I expect (the) eviction to occur within the next two weeks,” Milhaven states in a March 17 affidavit. “I have nowhere to move and do not earn sufficient income to qualify for or rent a market-rate unit in the community.”