Wednesday, August 13, 2008

HUD files discrimination charges against no-pet co-op

newsday.com/business/ny-bzhud135799017aug13,0,1420908.story
Newsday.com
HUD files discrimination charges against no-pet co-op
BY ELLEN YAN ellen.yan@newsday.com
August 13, 2008

The owners and board of a Rockville Centre no-pet co-op building violated a disabled senior's rights when they tried to evict the dog she keeps for emotional support, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development said in filing discrimination charges.

Mary Pasko, 90, who is diagnosed with depression and lives with her daughter in the co-op, said her toy poodle Coco gives her a reason to get up from bed and barks when she knows her owner needs something.

"I don't think I'd be around if it wasn't for her," said Pasko, who has arthritis, a spinal disorder and other illnesses. "She's like medicine for me. If I have her with me, I seem to feel better."

But the board at The Hartley House sued to evict the dog, said HUD and daughter Joan Anzelone. She filed a complaint and board members responded that Coco was "simply a companion pet" because there was no proof the dog helps Pasko's depression.

"We're not unfeeling about this," said board member Paul Verbesey. "The question is 'Are there other alternatives?'" Co-op owners could not be reached yesterday, and Verbesey said the board has not discussed HUD's charge.

Three years ago, the co-op approved the pet of a live-in caretaker coming to tend a dying resident.

In Pasko's case, Verbesey said Coco was supposed to be there only temporarily and residents have complained after moving there specifically because of the no-pets rule.

HUD said it charged the owners and board with discrimination because The Fair Housing Act calls for "reasonable accommodation" on no-pet policies for people with physical and mental disabilities, once a doctor's note is provided, which Pasko had from a psychologist. The case will be heard by an administrative law judge or in federal court.

Pam Walsh, HUD's director of the Office of Policy, Legislative Initiatives and Outreach, said housing discrimination cases involving animals are not uncommon but she's seeing more involving people with emotional disabilities. "I would not call them pets," Walsh said. "These are assistant animals."

Pasko moved in with Anzelone seven years ago and left Coco with a daughter in Pennsylvania. Owner and dog traveled for visits, until the other daughter died two years ago and Coco came back to Pasko. The family was unsuccessful looking for a new home and could not find anyone to take Coco.

"Without Coco, I am very depressed, sad and always crying," Pasko said. "I will never, never give her up."


Mary Pasko with Coco at home in Rockville Centre. (Newsday Photo / Thomas A. Ferrara / August 13, 2008)

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