To most people, bringing home a new puppy is just a fun luxury. But for disabled people, like Iraq War veteran Jessie Johnson, a new dog is a crucial partner that provides life-changing services.
Johnson brought home a nine-week-old puppy recently to raise and train as a service dog. The puppy, Phoenix, has been approved by a doctor and the Veterans Affairs office to help Johnson in his ongoing battles with PTSD and anxiety. There’s just one problem: Johnson’s landlord is threatening to evict him and his family over the dog.
Johnson was told by Larry Strauss of Rivertown Properties, Inc. last week that he had three days to move out.
“Guess what?" Stauss is heard saying on a recording. “I'm going to give you a three day eviction, I'm going to go to court and I'll win.”
"So, you're going to evict me over a service dog?" Johnson asked.
"I'm evicting you, period,” Stauss replied.
Johnsons said he received an eviction notice on Friday and hasn’t heard back from Rivertown Properties since. He says he and his family of three will have nowhere to go if the landlord follows through with the eviction.
The eviction raises eyebrows for two reasons. First, Rivertown Properties says on their website that pets are allowed at their property. From their website:
“We allow either a cat or a small dog, no more than 20-25 lbs full grown, in designated buildings which are two bedroom apartments only. Rent for the apartments with a pet are an extra $25/month with an additional $200 deposit.”
It is not know if Johnson's family lives in a designated pet-friendly apartment. More importantly, though, is that Rivertown Properties is breaking the law by evicting Johnson over a service dog. The Americans with Disabilities Act and the Fair Housing Act require landlords to accommodate service animals regardless of their property’s pet policy.
"The VA award letter federally backs the dog with the disabilities act,” Johnson told Valley News Live. Phoenix is being trained as psychiatric service dog, and Johnson hopes the pup will help him avoid situations that trigger PTSD and anxiety attacks.
"She's going to be trained as kind of a boundary dog for big crowds where if I'm at like Rib Fest or a fair or something, standing in line rather than somebody bumping into me,” said Johnson. “She can be trained to stand a distance away from me to keep people away.”
Johnson has filed complaints with Americans with Disabilities Act officials and the Veterans Affairs office. He is waiting for a response from both parties.