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Landlord must pay $25,000 for trying to evict HIV patient’s dog

Kayla, an 11-year-old boxer mix, has been Richard Blake’s support dog since 2008. Kayla, an 11-year-old boxer mix, has been Richard Blake’s support dog since 2008.
By John M. Guilfoil and Martin Finucane
Globe Staff / April 5, 2011

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The landlords of a Brighton apartment building have been ordered to pay $25,000 to a tenant with HIV/AIDS for trying to force the man to get rid of his emotional support dog or move out of his home.

The complaint was brought against Brighton Gardens LP, which owns the Brighton Gardens building on Tremont Street; Lombardi Corp., a general partner in Brighton Gardens LP; Michael J. Lombardi, president of Lombardi Corp; and Louis M. Lombardi, vice president.

Yesterday, Michael Lombardi denied any wrongdoing and said he will appeal.

The complainant, Richard M. Blake, was diagnosed with HIV infection more than two decades ago. He isolated himself, rarely left the house, and became sedentary, said his attorney, Denise McWilliams.

“He was depressed, basically lounging around the apartment all day long, and his weight rose and blood pressure got out of control,’’ said McWilliams, general counsel for the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts.

Blake’s doctor recommended a support dog to help lift his mood and improve his mental and physical health.

Blake got the dog in May 2008, a boxer mix named Kayla with what Blake described as “big brown eyes.’’

“She’s just given me sort of a routine in my life,’’ Blake said. “She’s given me a lot of joy. Animals just seem to make it hard for you to be in a bad mood.’’

His blood pressure went down. He lost weight. “Ever since I have had her, the walks and the tons of exercise I do with her have helped,’’ he said.

Blake said his landlord gave him permission to get the dog, but two months later tenants were notified that a no-pet policy in their leases would be enforced, beginning Oct. 1, 2008.

After unsuccessful attempts to get the landlords to accommodate his disability, Blake filed a complaint in December 2008 with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination.

The panel ruled in his favor last week and provided the decision yesterday.

The hearing officer determined that Blake was disabled and that the evidence “supports a finding that requiring Complainant to give up his dog would seriously jeopardize his emotional and physical well-being.’’

The commission also ruled the landlords should pay a $5,000 fine, “given their utter intransigence’’ in refusing to discuss a “reasonable accommodation’’ with the man.

Michael J. Lombardi criticized the ruling. “My firm did not knowingly discriminate against anybody,’’ he said yesterday.

Lombardi called it ’’an extraordinary decision because they really haven’t pinpointed any discrimination.’’

He said the property managers had no idea Blake was in a legally protected class until “late in the game.’’

John M. Guilfoil can be reached at jguilfoil@globe.com. Martin Finucane can be reached at mfinucane@globe.com.