Trial set for Aspen service-dog flap

Rick Carroll
The Aspen Times

A trial date in Denver federal court over a service-dog dispute at an Aspen condominium complex is set for early next year.

Documents filed Sept. 13 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado show that a six-day jury trial is scheduled to begin Feb. 12 pitting condo-owner Alvaro J. Arnal against Aspen View Condominium Association, two of its board members and a property management firm.

Barring a settlement or suit dismissal, the trial will come after Arnal filed suit in May 2015, accusing the defendants of discriminating against a seizure-prone tenant with a service dog.

Arnal’s suit claims the defendants engaged in discrimination and retaliation, while violating the Fair Housing Amendments Acts of 1988. Jack Smith and Heather Vicenzi, who were members of the condo association at the time of the dispute, also are being sued.

Smith and Vicenzi have a countersuit against Arnal and are seeking reimbursement of costs associated with the litigation and enforcing the condo association’s bylaws. They previously failed in their attempt to have a judge remove them as defendants, according to the case.

The Aspen View Condominium complex is located at 326 Midland Ave., where Arnal is a joint owner of one of the 18 units. Dogs are forbidden from living at the complex, but Arnal opted to rent out his unit to the owner of a canine, a Florida woman, in November 2013. Under the Fair Housing Act, both service and therapy animals are permitted to live in properties that ban pets, provided their owners show documentation about their disability and their need for an assistance animal.

“Prior to executing the lease agreement, the prospective renter disclosed that she has a disability for which she uses a service dog,” reads Arnal’s amended complaint from May 2016. “Mr. Arnal had no objection to her use of a service animal, nor any legitimate reason to reject her request to rent the units.”

Before he signed the lease with the woman, Natasha MacArthur, Arnal said the condo association and property management firm wrongfully demanded extensive documentation about her ailment and the dog. And after MacArthur moved in, Arnal’s suit claims the association fined him $50 a day starting Jan. 31, 2014, for allowing her to have a service dog in the unit.

The board also fined Arnal $1,450 and issued him a $4,234 bill, on June 5, 2014, for its attorneys fees that accumulated during the dog dispute. And a month later, the board placed a $5,684 lien on Arnal’s unit, the suit says.

MacArthur left the unit in March 2014 after living there less than five months. She also sued Aspen View Condominium Association and First Choice Properties & Management in Denver federal court in July 2015, accusing them of employing delay tactics and launching a campaign of harassment against her in 2013 and 2014 because she had a service dog and was subleasing a unit at Aspen View Condominiums.

MacArthur’s history of seizures dates back to 2000, resulting in blackouts, memory loss, disorientation and hospitalization, her suit said. Her service dog, a golden retriever named Stevie Nicks, could not prevent her epileptic seizures but it could detect them in advance, her suit said.

That suit settled last November on confidential terms, and the dog is no longer alive.

In both suits, the defendants maintained they operated in a fair manner, the plaintiffs were uncooperative, and MacArthur “had no apparent disability” and was able to regularly snowboard and hold down two jobs.

Cliff Mohwinkel, president of the board for Aspen View Condominiums at the time of the suit was filed, previously said the association “did more than its fair share” to accommodate the woman and her service dog.

“We walked the second and third and 10th mile, and we spent a lot of money trying to be equitable,” he said. Mohwinkel was a defendant in the case but passed away in August 2015.