Going to the Dogs

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Recently by Becky Akers: Supermom vs. the Gutless Wonder That Is a Jury


As totalitarianism descends, Our Rulers wax increasingly absurd. No particular of our lives is too petty or personal to engross them; like a gossipy old retiree with nothing better to do all day, they monitor every detail of our existence, controlling and pitting us against each other. Even a miniature schnauzer named Mikey is no longer beneath the federal government's scrutiny.

In a suburb of New York City earlier this month, the Department of Injustice extorted $58,750 from a “senior citizen complex” on behalf of an elderly widower. It seems the "complex" prohibited pets, but when Jack Biegel and his 74-year-old wife moved there, she refused to relinquish her “comfort dog,” Mikey.

If you are fortunate enough to reside someplace sane, you may not recognize that term. Many apartments in New York City and its environs are co-operatives or condominiums (shortened to "co-op" and "condo," though both words can refer to either a single apartment or the building as a whole). Residents own these rather than renting them, and they elect a slate of their neighbors to manage the building. These "boards" decide an astronomical number of specificities; remember, no aspect of life is too picayune to escape regulation now, especially in the Big-Bureaucracy-on-the-Hudson.

Boards determine such minutiae as whether inhabitants may install washing machines in their units; to whom they may sell (yep: if you receive an offer to buy your property, you devoutly hope the board allows you to accept it); the conditions under which one may sub-let; whether owners may keep pets and if so, what kind. Nor do these diktats originate with the boards: the feds, New York State and New York City have compiled vast bodies of law and precedent that govern virtually all of them. For instance, regulations define the grounds on which a board may reject the sale of your apartment (acceptable reason: the buyer, who must submit his tax-returns for the board’s perusal, doesn’t earn enough to pay his share of the common expenses each month. Unacceptable: he looks deranged, or he sexually assaults people at airports as one of the TSA’s leeches, and the board fears he might pursue his vocation in the building’s elevators).

Naturally, such smothering regulation spawns industrious efforts to circumvent it. “Comfort dog” is one of them. Say you fall in love with an apartment in a building whose board has outlawed pets (which the law allows, though it controls how that prohibition plays out). But you also love your dog. What to do? Well, you claim that the dog is necessary to your health and well-being, and under the Americans with Disabilities Act, the board must exempt you from its rule — regardless of whether other folks bought homes there precisely to escape such nuisances as incessant barking, the cockroaches drawn to open containers of dog-food, etc.

The DOJ admits that the aptly named Mrs. Biegel suffered from an entire emergency room’s worth of diseases: “severe respiratory problems, depression, anxiety, cirrhosis, diabetes, and decreased vision and hearing.” The New York Law Journal adds that these maladies left her “very frail, … on oxygen twenty-four hours a day and … unable to leave her home without an ambulance” (the Journal does not post articles online; I take this quote from its issue of Nov. 13, 2012). Predictably, Mrs. Biegel died. But she had the prudence to do so one month after she and her husband finally obeyed the board’s repeated requests to honor its policy against pets. 

"So?" you ask. Ah, dear reader, such naïveté is why you'll forever languish as a mere taxpayer rather than ascending to the heights of gowned clown. Judge Arthur Spatt sided with the DOJ in pretending there was cause-and-effect here. Clearly, a very ill and elderly woman died not from her many infirmities but because the hard-hearted board compelled her to relinquish Mikey. And if you further demand, "Hey, now wait a minute. Did the board force these opportunists to live there? Why didn't they just buy an apartment someplace else?", you further prove your complete unsuitability for any position in government, even that of a lowly dog-catcher.

Not only will the grieving hubby make $58,750 on her death (and remember that, like the State, buildings have no money but what they collect from residents, so this greedball has robbed his neighbors with help from the DOJ), but the Law Journal reports that the board must henceforth “notify the office of the Eastern District U.S. Attorney … every time it denies a request from a resident for an accommodation for the next three years.” Which means that not only will the board micro-manage the luckless denizens' lives, but bureaucrats at the U.S. Attorney’s office will, too. Nor does that satisfy the DOJ’s lust for power: all the co-op’s “employees also will have to undergo training [sic for u2018indoctrination'] in compliance with the federal Fair Housing Act…”

Tragically, such utter nonsense, tyranny, meddling, and waste of time and money is entirely normal in New York. The rule of law and all common sense vanished decades ago from its intensively regulated real-estate market. In their places reign bureaucratic and political caprice. Very frequently, these conflict: for example, the New York State Department of Human Rights ordered one building to construct a ramp from the sidewalk to the front door after a resident complained of discrimination against her wheelchair, but New York City's Department of Buildings prohibited the ramp because its requirements for the slope of such things would have extended it to the middle of the street. Funny, yes — but not to Ms. Wheelchair's fellow residents. They footed the bills as the co-op's lawyers dueled with two sets of bureaucrats.

Government's stranglehold on co-ops and condos also voids private agreements. You may think you have moved into a building free of noisy mutts only to discover that your neighbor upstairs needs three German shepherds as "comfort dogs." This sows immense discord — whose arbitration excuses yet more intrusion from the State, as the Biegels demonstrate. Nor are dogs its only ploy: any issue, from whether residents may place potted plants on their terraces to the mold in the walls they claim the building hasn't eliminated, can become the next legal sinkhole. One disgruntled, avaricious owner or a bureaucrat looking for something to prosecute can cost each resident hundreds or thousands of dollars as the building pays legal fees, awards, and fines.

But dogs remain a favorite gimmick. In fact, attorneys specializing in real-estate law joke that only a fool would argue against the canine's side in any lawsuit because “the dog always wins.”

And liberty loses.

Becky Akers [send her mail] new novel, Halestorm, is set during the American Revolution. Read it in paperback or on a Kindle.

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