When Theadora Malfetti moved into the Hudson Troy Towers, on the horizon of her panoramic views of Union City, NJ, she had no idea what trouble was looming. When Thea bought her co-op and moved into the Towers, there was a “no dog policy.” However, she sought a waiver of the policy because she was a victim of sexual abuse, abuse that resurfaced at the hands of her co-op, Troy Towers.
We live in a country filled with condos, co-ops, and townhouses, but buyer beware - the conveniences of group-living may give way to those freedoms that we hold dear. Perhaps the choices to display lawn gnomes, flags, and decorations are rights we may reluctantly waive to live in a condo. However, a “no dog” policy prohibiting the ownership of service dogs, by sexual abuse victims, is worthy of constitutional consideration.
Thea claimed she was placed in fear and sexually harassed by the property manager of Troy Towers, and when they refused to terminate the property manager’s employment, Thea filed a lawsuit. The complaint alleged that the property manager stalked her and would make sexual comments/statements, such as “I’m going to sniff your underwear when you’re not home.” The lawsuit was ultimately resolved when he was removed, but the sexual harassment caused Thea to relive the trauma from her past sexual abuse. She felt unsafe and distressed in her own home and her life became dysfunctional. Between the chronic fatigue and failure to sleep, she suffered from severe emotional distress.
Her doctors suggested a possible solution to her emotional anguish—a service dog. Thea followed their advice and after doing research on emotional support dogs, she purchased a service dog, Harmony. Harmony was registered with the State of New Jersey and professionally trained and certified as a service dog. Among her many responsibilities, Harmony was taught to alert and/or comfort Thea when there was danger or a stranger in the area.
Instead of aiding their resident in her time of emotional need the board members at her co-op complex, Troy Towers, decided to take her and 10-pound Harmony to trial, arguing that Thea had violated the “no dog policy” and that the dog had to be removed. The Attorney for the co-op forced Ms. Malfetti to expose her personal traumas and intimate details of her sexual abuse to a hired gun, an alleged expert psychiatrist. However, even when presented with Ms. Malfetti’s case and traumatic background, the Trial Court ruled that she did not meet the requirements for a disability. Instead, the Court determined that Ms. Malfetti violated Hudson Troy Towers’ “no dog” policy and Harmony was removed. The Court went so far as to state that Thea would “adjust.” With Harmony removed, Ms. Malfetti has had to endure being apart from Harmony and cope with the severe distress.
The agony of not having Harmony to comfort her was not the only damage inflicted on Thea. Troy Towers had only begun to seek payback. Soon thereafter, they proceeded to petition the Court for attorney fees in the amount of $96,000! When she couldn’t afford to pay the fees they took away her assigned parking space, seized all of the money in her bank account and are now attempting to eject Thea from the building and take possession of her home. She is now appealing the Court’s order that awarded over $96,000 in attorney fees to Troy Towers’ attorneys and the Court’s finding that Ms. Malfetti is barred from having a service dog. Thea argues that if a licensed doctor or therapist prescribes a service dog for a medical condition, then reasonable accommodations must be made, pursuant to Federal Law, regardless of any ”no-dog” policies.
Troy Towers went through a lot of trouble to put out the pooch. We have noise ordinances for dogs that bark too much, pooper scooper fines and other ordinances to deal with unruly dogs. However, it seems unreasonable that a condo association would not make reasonable accommodations for a sexual abuse victim that registered and trained her dog pursuant to State law, which was recommended by licensed medical professionals. Forcing your neighbor to be humiliated, bankrupt, and homeless due to a 10-pound pooch is outrageous behavior that should not have resulted in a $96,000.00 award. A dog-gone shame.