An Amputee Loses Dogged Legal Fight Over Eviction : * Handicap: A municipal judge bases his ruling not on the terrier that hauls the student to class but on student’s name not being on the apartment lease.
Orange Coast College student Jeff Smithling, an amputee who relies on his dog to pull him to class, said he might have to quit school and move out of the county after a Municipal Court judge upheld an apartment manager’s decision to evict him.
Municipal Judge Edward L. Laird decided Friday that Smithling, his three roommates and his dog, Lightning, must leave Villa Marseilles apartments on Bristol Street in Santa Ana.
Smithling and his fiancee, Trisha Langley, have been fighting the eviction notice, which came after neighbors complained about his dog, an American Staffordshire terrier and member of the pit bull family.
The dog, however, was not at the center of Laird’s ruling Friday. It stated that Smithling has no legal right to live in the apartment because his name is not on the lease. The couple’s two housemates, Deborah Jakubowicz and Tracy Sobek, have also been evicted.
“This is horrible,” Smithling said. “My dog has been used as an excuse against the disabled. I feel it is a blow to the handicapped society.”
Smithling, who had both legs amputated because of a lifelong arthritic disease, relies on Lightning to get to his classes. The dog pulls Smithling along on a skateboard, much like a sled dog.
Smithling said he does not know whether he can afford an apartment in the county close enough to the college campus that Lightning can continue to pull him to classes. And the college freshman said his $630 monthly disability check is not enough to cover most rentals.
“I want to go to school badly,” Smithling said. “But they have made it almost impossible for me to get anywhere. I just can’t find a place. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I wish somebody can, please, help me.”
Langley said they have received several offers from apartment managers outside of the college area. But she said the locations are too far for Smithling to travel.
Last month, apartment manager Shirley Stephenson sent Smithling an eviction notice when neighbors complained about Lightning. Although the apartment complex allows pets, neighbors told management that they do not like being near Smithling’s dog, an attorney for the complex said.
Smithling, 29, had asked the courts to dismiss the eviction, saying the notice discriminated against him as a disabled person, since Lightning represents his only source of transportation.