Braille Monitor                                                                                February 1986

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The Judge Bites the Landlord

by Margaret Conry

(Reprinted from the December, 1985, Michigan Focus, the publication of the National Federation of the Blind of Michigan.)

Until August of 1985, I traveled by the use of a white cane. Many would ask me why I didn't have a dog, but I always replied that I didn't want the responsibility of one. Secretly, I resented the notion that just because a person was blind he should have a dog.

After joining the National Federation of the Blind, my negative attitude toward blindness and the use of the long white cane changed. I worked as diligently as I could to better my techniques and build my confidence.

After talking with Pat Cannon, a member of the Lansing Chapter, I decided to get a dog guide. I applied to several guide dog schools in August, and had an interview with Guide Dogs for the Blind in San Rafael in California.

The apartment complex I was renting from had a no-pet policy. But I was sure that under the law my rights to have a guide dog would be protected. Out of courtesy to my landlord I informed him I was going to obtain a guide dog. To my dismay, he was not pleased. He was concerned about hair on the carpet, the dog smell in the house, urinating on the carpet, and that he would have to replace it.

I told him this would not be the case, because the dogs were well trained, and I even offered to let him speak with the school at my expense. But he refused. He tried to get me to move, and even called my friends trying to get them to persuade me to move.

I informed him that I would not move out, that I was prepared to stay, and that with the public law (Act 220) I was allowed to have a guide dog.

I wrote him a letter and cited several sections of the act which says that a person cannot be discriminated against because of the use of adopted aids and devices.

His response to me was that he could charge me $5.00 a day kennel fee for having an animal on the premises. I again informed him that I was protected under PA 220 and he could not do this. In October, 1985, I went to train for my dog guide and returned on November 10, 1985.

In mid-December I received a small claims notice from the sixth district court in Ann Arbor. They asked me to appear on January ninth before a district judge, and that I owed my landlord $300.00, $5.00 per day for having my guide dog in my apartment. I immediately contacted the NFB.

I should point out here that there are two important things to be noted about a small claims case. First, there is no representation, and the result of a small claim does not set precedence. If the result was good, it could not be applied in any other case in Michigan.

Carl Schier, who is a capable lawyer in Michigan and has handled cases for the NFB for several years, was contacted, and he agreed to take the case.

In mid-May of 1985 a motion for summary judgment was entered. We attempted to obtain the judgment by default. By then the landlord refused to respond to attempts made to get information from him.

The National Federation of the Blind of Michigan walked into the courtroom and presented my case. My landlord then stood up and tried to present his. The first words out of his mouth were to the affect that Mr. Schier was trying to feather his pockets by delaying the case.

The judge then exploded and turned livid and screamed at the man for at least ten minutes. He threw him out of the courtroom and told him he was in default and that if he didn't get the information to us that we needed, he would be out. The judge ended the case at that point, and he walked out of the courtroom.

The comment from my landlord to my lawyer was something like, "What is going on?"

There will be a final judgment in the case, which I hope will be rendered soon. In the meantime I have moved to California, but the aftereffects will be the same. We are in hopes that blind people in Michigan can live in any type of housing without paying fees for having a guide dog.

Here I want to say that this is why we have NFB. For without NFB, I could not have won my battle against my landlord. I would have been forced to pay $5.00 per day or move out. I am proud to be a member, and if you are reading this article and have not joined, I hope you will consider doing so.

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