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Co-op Wins $30,000 Legal-Fee Judgment in "Disability Dog" Case

Frank Lovece in Legal/Financial on January 31, 2014

East River Housing, Lower East Side, Manhattan

Jan. 31, 2014

In a Housing Court case decided on Dec. 30, Judge Jack Stoller ruled that Steven Gilbert owed the award even though he had removed the dog, since Gilbert had not done so until East River Housing had already begun eviction proceedings. As well, the court ruled, the award would be granted even though Gilbert's claim of disability accommodation was still awaiting a determination by New York State Division of Human Rights.

Unsafe Harbor

The case began when the management of East River Housing — one of four co-op complexes comprising Co-op Village on the Lower East Side — learned that Gilbert was harboring a dog, a violation of the self-managed co-op's proprietary lease. Complicating matters, the co-op contains numerous pet dogs that had been slipped in and now circumvent the building's policy through the colloquially called "pet law" — technically section 27-2009.1(b) of the state administrative code, which says that if any "agent" of the building is aware you have a pet, then the board or landlord has 90 days to start proceedings to remove it or else the pet can stay.

Gilbert, ironically, wasn't even harboring his own dog but that of a friend. Nonetheless, he failed to remove the dog until the co-op board commenced eviction proceedings against him. The board did offer a settlement, but Gilbert, represented by Gregory Calabro, a partner at Moritt Hock & Hamroff, rejected it.

"We had proposed a very reasonable settlement in which the tenant would have paid only nominal legal fees while keeping possession of the dog, but the tenant back out of the deal," the co-op's attorney Bradley Silverbush, a partner at Rosenberg & Estis, said in a statement. "It is unclear to me why people do what they do, but this [court] decision should send a clear message that people cannot ignore their lease obligations with impunity."

No Delay

The court held that a separate complaint by Gilbert, alleging that he requires the dog as a reasonable accommodation, was not grounds to delay the coop's entitlement to the legal fees.

It was unclear whether Gilbert would appeal the Housing Court decision. His case at the state Division of Human Rights is pending.

East River Housing won a similar case on Oct. 17 last year, when Housing Court Judge Sabrina Kraus ruled that a shareholder had to remove an emotional-support pit bull even though the woman was diagnosed with depression. The court noted that the diagnosis came only after the co-op had initiated eviction proceedings.

The co-op is currently involved in a federal lawsuit initiated after shareholder Stephanie Aaron was ordered to remove a stray she had adopted and then claimed helped her depression. Aaron filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), whose Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity divisions administers the Fair Housing Act, the regulation that governs "reasonable accommodation" for residents with disabilities. Gilbert and another East River Housing shareholder, Amy Eisenberg, have joined that suit.


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