Aspen HOA denies wrongdoing in service-dog flap

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

An Aspen homeowners association is denying that it violated the constitutional rights of a unit owner and a tenant by failing to make accommodations for a service dog.

Two federal lawsuits are pending in the U.S. District Court of Denver against the Aspen View Condominium Association, its board members and property manager. The HOA board’s president, Cliff Mohwinkel, died Aug. 7.

Last month, the defendants formerly answered plaintiff and Aspen resident Natasha MacArthur’s lawsuit, which claims she needs a service dog because she is prone to seizures. MacArthur and her golden retriever, named Stevie Nicks, moved to Aspen in November 2013. She signed a lease with Alvaro Arnal, the co-owner of a unit at Aspen View Condominiums, an 18-unit complex on Midland Avenue that forbids canines. MacArthur’s suit, filed in July, claims the HOA committed discrimination by asking her invasive questions about her disability requiring a service dog.

But the defendants’ response says the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, in its 2013 policy regarding assistance animals for disabled people in housing, states that landlords “may ask individuals who have disabilities that are not readily apparent or known to the provider to submit reliable documentation of a disability and their disability-related need for an assistance animal.”

The defendants also claim MacArthur provided them with a card showing that Stevie Nicks was trained to be a service dog, but the card was expired. They also allege MacArthur “never provided reliable documentation of a disability to the Association.”

“The tenant’s dog never wore a service vest and the Plaintiff rejected the Board’s request that the animal wear a vest,” the lawsuit response said. “Defendants do not admit that possession of a vest or card confirms that the animal was a valid service animal.”

MacArthur’s suit said she needs the dog because it can detect her seizures, but not prevent them, before they happen. She was diagnosed with epilepsy in 2010.

Meanwhile, MacArthur’s landlord, Arnal, also is suing the same defendants. Arnal’s suit, filed in May, says that the HOA fined him $50 a day, starting Jan. 31, 2014, for allowing MacArthur to have a dog in the unit. His suit accuses the defendants of discrimination, retaliation and interference with contract. It alleges that both the HOA and complex’s property-management firm, First Choice Property & Management, made it difficult for Arnal to lease the unit to MacArthur by asking for extensive documentation about her ailment and the dog.

MacArthur moved from the unit in March 2014 after living there less than five months.

The defendants are counter-suing Arnal, claiming that it was entitled to ask for documentation.

“The Association has no knowledge as to whether service animals can or cannot prevent seizures,” the defendants said in an August filing. “The Association’s request for information regarding the dog demonstrates nothing more than, as of January 20, 2014, the Association was unclear for the need for the dog.”

The defendants also claim they didn’t’ know that MacArthur had a disability as of Jan. 8, 2014.

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