Dog puts leash on homeowner group's rules
Article Courtesy of the Sacramento Bee

              Saying the pet was therapeutic, a couple win a ruling.

By Wayne Wilson -- Bee Staff Writer
Published Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Pookie was a godsend to Jayne and Abdelfatah "Ed" Elebiari, an Auburn couple who had been struggling for years through episodes of depression.

She was small, as dogs go -- 11 pounds of vitality and warmth who bonded rapidly with her new owners.

But she improved the quality of the couple's lives, said Jayne Elebiari, who found the wire-haired terrier in a local animal shelter.

Ed Elebiari had been permanently disabled with multiple brain disorders since a 1992 automobile accident and was essentially house bound, spending his days as a shut-in, alone, public records showed.

Jayne Elebiari suffered from chronic depression marked by crying fits, sleep disorders, nightmares and fatigue.

But the Elebiaris' mental, emotional and physical well-being improved markedly when Pookie joined the family, Jayne Elebiari said.

Both were uplifted considerably by the newfound responsibility of feeding, grooming and sharing the dog's companionship, she said.

Ed Elebiari went outside more for walks with his new best friend, and they were careful not to leave a mess in the neighborhood, a well-maintained complex off Interstate 80, Jayne Elebiari said.

Two months after Pookie's arrival, however, her presence was noticed by the Auburn Woods I Homeowners Association, and the machinery of covenants, conditions and restrictions took over.

An attorney for the association said Jayne Elebiari's decision to bring a dog home to Auburn Woods was "impulsive" and was not based "upon any medical recommendation or existing impairment."

So Pookie was not "necessary for the Elebiaris to use and enjoy the premises," the actual legal standard required for an exception to the CC&Rs, association attorney Michael W. Thomas said.

To have a legitimate claim to a "companion animal," Thomas said, it is not enough to claim that a pet "makes you feel better."

Documents filed with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing show that Pookie would have been accepted had she been a cat, rabbit, guinea pig or bird.

But dogs were a no-no at Auburn Woods, and the Elebiaris were ordered to get rid of their terrier or face fines of "$50, $75 and $100, respectively, every three days."

Unable to afford the fines, the couple moved Pookie to a friend's property in Nevada County, Jayne Elebiari said.

But their mental and emotional symptoms returned: Ed Elebiari wept for three days and ultimately was hospitalized with severe headaches; Jayne Elebiari experienced a recurrence of depression and became short-tempered and irritable.

"We took it very hard," Jayne Elebiari said.

When efforts to obtain an exception were rejected by the homeowners association, the Elebiaris sold their condominium and moved to Hugo, Okla.

Jayne Elebiari has a new job as a paralegal in Hugo, and she and Ed are enjoying the companionship of Pookie II.

The original Pookie had become so attached to her new family and surroundings that she stayed behind, Jayne Elebiari said.

Before leaving Auburn, the Elebiaris filed a complaint with the state Department of Fair Employment and Housing, alleging that the homeowners association committed a discriminatory act against the disabled when it denied the couple a "reasonable accommodation" to keep a companion animal.

After a four-day hearing last summer in Auburn, the Fair Employment and Housing Commission agreed.

The ruling, filed May 7, will become effective June 7.

It directs Auburn Woods I Homeowners Association to pay the couple $17,998.50, plus interest: $7,500 to Jayne Elebiari for mental distress, $5,000 to Ed Elebiari for mental distress, $5,000 in civil penalties and $498.50 in actual damages and costs.

In addition, the homeowners association has been ordered to "immediately cease and desist from discriminating against mental disability and from denying reasonable accommodation for mental disability under the Fair Employment and Housing Act."

Thomas said he would appeal the administrative law judge's ruling in Placer Superior Court.

"The decision contains a number of appealable errors," Thomas said. And if it is allowed to stand, it could have a deleterious effect on CC&Rs established by homeowners groups statewide, he said.