Landlord tells Tampa couple medical service dog is lease violation

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) – For Pam Clark, her German Shepherd Ammo, is a lifeline. Ammo’s a highly trained medical service dog, and Pam, who has severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can barely function without him.

“It’s a medical device, as opposed to a pet,” Pam said. “There’s chemical changes that will happen in your body, depending on the different medical events, that he’ll smell and be able to alert me to, long before I even know about them.”

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She and her fiance, James, moved into an apartment at Patio Homes Condominiums in Tampa in October. A few week later, Pam was awarded Ammo, after a thorough vetting process from Guardian Angels Medical Service Dogs, a group that trains service dogs and pairs them with people who have disabilities.

Life was looking up for Pam and James until they received a text message came from their landlord. “The dog is a breach of the lease,” the text said.

The couple told 8 On Your Side they explained that state and federal laws protect service dogs and that they could not be evicted because of the dog. But, they say the landlord, Richard Bavota, then refused to accept their rent and filed for eviction, citing a failure to pay rent.

“The ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) has laws in place to prevent things like this from happening,” Pam said. “The fact that their are loopholes that people can find to get around it, it’s unfair.”

When reached by phone Bavota said he evicted the couple because they stopped paying rent. When asked about the text message about the dog, the landlord hung up.

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Carol Borden of Guardian Angles Medical Service Dogs is outraged. She personally paired Pam and Ammo. Borden said her group works hard to verify medical conditions before awarding dogs. She said Ammo is highly trained and well-behaved. Pam was also trained on how to work with Ammo, and to deal with landlords and others who might not understand the protection the law gives her and the dog.

“There is no question that these people do need proper housing, they do qualify for a service dog and they do in fact have a properly trained service dog,” Borden said.

Borden said this problem is nothing new and she routinely sends literature to businesses or landlords who try to discriminate against service dogs.

“It is a dog that is trained with a high set of skills that actually mitigate the challenges of a disability,” she said. “It is not a therapy dog. It is not an emotional support dog.”

There are penalties for discriminating against people with medical service dogs, including up to six months of jail time, fines and court-ordered community service.

However, Pam and James chose to move instead of fighting the eviction. The stress, they said, was too much for Pam to handle. Both James and Pam have disabilities and, for now, they turned to a shelter in Tampa. They’re looking for another apartment where Ammo won’t be a problem.

Meanwhile, Borden said her group is reaching out to help the couple and educate landlords.

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