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High-Rise Tenant Denied Therapeutic Dog Sparks Lawsuit

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CHICAGO (STMW) - State human rights officials filed a lawsuit against a Lake Shore Drive condo association Tuesday, claiming its refusal to allow a tenant to keep a service animal for therapeutic purposes violates anti-discrimination laws.

The Illinois Department of Human Rights filed the suit in Cook County Circuit Court against 3150 Condominium Association on behalf of tenant Nio Tavaos.

Tavalos, an artist, lives part of the year in New Mexico and part of the year in a Lake View high-rise at 3150 N. Lake Shore Dr., according to the suit. He was diagnosed with a form of chronic depression in 2001 and found that his two miniature poodles who lived in his New Mexico home made his mood “more stable and less dark.”

Building rules prohibit pets, but Tavalos asked to move the dogs into his condo in 2007 after he learned other tenants had cats and dogs as service animals, some for emotional support, the suit claims.

The condo association twice denied his request, even after two doctors treating Tavalos sent the condo association letters on his behalf supporting the dogs’ therapeutic use, the suit claims. One doctor wrote that allowing the animals to live with him full-time would be “the best and safest approach” to treat his mood disorder, according to the suit.

Tavalos filed a discrimination complaint with the state, which filed Tuesday’s lawsuit after the Department of Human Rights found “substantial evidence” that the condo association discriminated against him by denying a reasonable accommodation for the dogs, the suit said. His depression qualifies as a physical disability under Illinois state law, the state claims in the suit.

Uptown residents Mary Jo and Ralph Stevens filed a similar lawsuit against Hollywood Towers Condominium in March. They claim their 12-pound service dog alleviates Mary Jo’s panic attacks, the long-term effects of a head injury she suffered in a car crash.

Their landlord allowed them to keep the dog in the no-pet building, but prohibited it from the main lobby and required it remain in a carrier in common areas — policies that the Stevens claim have turned them into “second-class residents.” That case is ongoing.

Tavalos’ suit claims one count of disability discrimination in violation of the Illinois Human Rights Act. One of the miniature poodles has since died, but the suit asks that his one surviving poodle be allowed to live in the condo.

It also asks that the condo association create a policy to deal with other requests for reasonable accommodation of disabilities, and train employees in fair housing practices. The suit demands an unspecified amount in damages, plus court costs.

© Sun-Times Media Wire Chicago Sun-Times 2012. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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