Army Vet Fights Eviction

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Hazel Remesch, Esq.

Hazel Remesch, Esq.

It wasn’t easy to find a safe, affordable apartment to accommodate his wheelchair and his service dog — and this veteran needed Legal Aid’s help to keep his home.

The walls of Paul LaVette Jr.’s apartment are crowded with framed awards, commendations and certificates from his 30 year career in the U.S. Army and Army Reserves.  He served in the U.S., Germany, Korea, Panama, and Vietnam. When he retired from the service he worked as a chef at Trump Plaza and later on the Nautica Queen. But soon he couldn’t take the physical strain of daily work and became disabled.  “I’m in good health, but I’m a broken mess because of my injuries,” says the 62-year-old. During his time in a mounted unit in Colorado, he was thrown from horses, and once attacked by a bear. A rack of M-16s fell on him, and after years of training soldiers in nine different martial arts, he says, “my joints are shot.”  Even with a wheelchair to get around, it’s hard to hold a job because of all his medical appointments and hospitalizations.

Demoralized because he wasn’t working, his Veterans Affairs doctor recommended a service dog. The veteran who once trained ordinance dogs trained Skippy from a tiny puppy to be his own personal service dog.  But when Mr. LaVette’s property manager saw the dog, she proposed to terminate his lease.

“I felt abandoned, harassed and just stepped on,” Mr. LaVette says. He requested a reasonable accommodation based on his disability. He jumped through hoops to show the license, doctor’s recommendation, and certificate for his service dog, but he felt the building manager kept throwing up roadblocks. Ultimately, his request for reasonable accommodation was denied, and his lease was terminated.

Mr. LaVette has been living in subsidized housing for six years. He likes the building; it’s secure, affordable, wheelchair accessible and close to several bus routes.  But most importantly, it is his home.

So, he decided to call Legal Aid.

Legal Aid Senior Staff Attorney Hazel Remesch advocated for Mr. LaVette and requested that his denial for a reasonable accommodation be reconsidered. She argued that Mr. LaVette’s disability warrants the possession of a service dog. And that the service dog provides emotional support and alleviates some of the symptoms that are a result of Mr. LaVette’s disability.

Six weeks later, Mr. LaVette’s request for Skippy to stay as his service dog was granted. Mr. LaVette was able to stay in his apartment and Skippy is an integral part of his support system.

Having Ms. Remesch and Legal Aid was a God-sent gift, he says. “She treated me very professionally and reassured me. I could call her or she called me to make sure we’d be ready.”  Because of Legal Aid, Mr. LaVette can keep his home, his canine companion and his rightful dignity.

Help Legal Aid continue this great work to ensure decent and affordable housing: make a gift to the 2014 Annual Campaign by December 31 at www.lasclev.org/donate or call 216-861-5590.

 

Click here to view the full Poetic Justice Issue where this story appeared.

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