Assistance animals at center of feud between apartment complex and local veteran

olivka-and-ginger-cropped

AMHERST, N.Y. (WIVB) – Air Force veteran Patrick Herbst says he and the management of the apartment complex where he lives agree on one thing: He needs to move out.

But, he says, Stonegate Apartments is pursuing action to evict him, rather than letting him out of his lease.

“They served me a notice of eviction, more or less, and with that comes the legal ramification of having to pay back the remainder of my lease, which is through May, as well as court fees and everything else,” Herbst said.

The problem at the heart of this: Herbst’s two dogs, Olivka and Ginger. Herbst has had them both since they were puppies, and he has a prescription for them as Emotional Support Animals, to help him with his anxiety and major depression.

olivka
Olivka

“If it wasn’t for those two, I was concerned suicidal ideation might move into suicidal attempts,” Herbst told News 4. “Having them there, it grounds things. It provides that road block from thought into action. They’re there, they look at you, they drool on you, you cuddle with them and you’re like, oh, okay, tomorrow we’ll feed you and it will be fine.”

ginger
Ginger

As assistance animals, in contrast with service animals, Herbst did not not need any special training or certification for his dogs, only a letter from a doctor or mental health professional spelling out their therapeutic value for him.

Assistance animals are covered under the Fair Housing Act, requiring landlords to make “reasonable accommodations” as long as a doctor’s note is provided.

MORE | Learn more about the laws regarding assistance animals here.

Herbst says he gave a copy of his prescription to the management of Stonegate Apartments when he moved in last April.

Stonegate is “more than willing to accept Emotional Support Animals,” the complex’s attorney, Gerald Chiari, told an Amherst Town Judge during a hearing Wednesday morning, but, “It cannot disturb the other tenants.”

Herbst’s dogs have prompted complaints from neighbors. “They do bark, like most dogs,” Herbst said.

Herbst says he’s tried everything to curb the barking, using buzz collars and muzzles, and even blocking the windows of his apartment so his dogs would be less tempted to bark at anything outside.

He says he recognizes it’s an issue for everyone, and that’s why he wants to move out. “I’m more than willing to take them out of the apartment and myself,” he said. “It’s just not a good fit.”

The dogs have been staying with one of Herbst’s friends for the last week or so, and he’s been making arrangements to move into a different place. But, he says, Stonegate’s property manager has refused to allow him to terminate his lease without incurring huge costs and an eviction on his credit record. “I just want to go, that’s all I want to do,” Herbst told News 4.

When Herbst appeared in town court Wednesday, Stonegate’s attorney told the judge he was not aware that Herbst was willing to move out on his own before the eviction hearing, which could change the situation. “We might well be able to work this out and I have to check with my client,” Chiari said as he was leaving the courthouse.

Herbst says he’s hopeful a good resolution can be reached soon, but said he’s not ruling out the possibility of filing a counter suit if it comes to it.

Another hearing has been scheduled in Amherst Town Court for December 14 at 9:30 a.m.

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