Most landlord-tenant battles are small-time affairs, but one out of Latrobe involving an emotional support dog named Onyx is being heard this week in a federal courtroom — with the U.S. Department of Justice backing the tenant on a discrimination claim.

A trial pitting the U.S. against LRG Corp. began Monday before U.S. District Judge Christy Wiegand.

Prosecutors say LRG, owned by Lewis Gainfort of Jeannette, discriminated against a woman and her teenage son by kicking them out of the Holly Apartments for violating the no-pets policy.

The Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division initially filed the complaint in 2020, saying LRG violated the Fair Housing Act by refusing to grant reasonable accommodation to the family for Onyx, their black Labrador.

LRG, Gainfort and his property manager, Tina Aiken, say they had received numerous complaints from other tenants about the dog barking too much as well as other noise, such as electric guitar playing, drumming and loud arguing.

The case began in August 2018 when Monica Samulski and her son, then 16, signed a lease and moved into an apartment.

Shortly after, Samulski sent a letter to the property manager asking for an exception to the no-pets policy for Onyx. She included a letter from her son’s doctor saying the boy, identified as S.S. in the complaint, has multiple mental health conditions and needs the dog.

LRG sent her a letter asking for confirmation that the dog was necessary, a description of the dog’s training, its vaccination records and other documentation to support Samulski’s claim.

Samulski sent a second copy of the letter from the doctor along with the vaccination records and an explanation that proof of training isn’t required for an emotional support animal.

Aiken, the property manager, then sent a letter saying Samulski and her son were going to be evicted for violating the pet policy.

When Samulski complained, Aiken said she hadn’t received the information about the dog she had requested earlier and said management had received four complaints about the dog barking.

Samulski said she’d resend the information about the necessity of the dog and also buy a muzzle and a bark-deterrent device. She said she did all of that but heard nothing more from Aiken until January 2019, when she was sent another letter threatening eviction in 30 days.

LRG then filed a complaint in February in Westmoreland County court accusing Samulski of lease violations because of the dog. A local magistrate ruled against Samulski. She left and moved in with her fiance. In March 2019, she filed a federal complaint with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

In bringing a discrimination case, the Justice Department said LRG’s eviction action based on the barking complaints was a “pretext for evicting the Samulskis for simply having an assistance animal.”

LRG said it had received nine barking complaints. But six of those came from the landlord’s own staff, DOJ said, and two of those six were made by the same employee on the same day.

Prosecutors also said LRG didn’t give Samulski any verbal or written warnings about noise complaints or try to resolve the issue before sending the eviction notices.

Testimony is set to continue today before Judge Wiegand.

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at

Torsten Ove

Torsten covers the courts for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Reach him at