Irvine Company to Quadriplegic: Get Rid of Companion Dog, or Get Evicted

[UPDATE: July 8, 2016 10:55 am]

This morning we received an email from Michael O’Loughlin’s lawyer saying that the Irvine Co. has decided not to hold O’Loughlin responsible for the attorney’s fees.

The Irvine Co. has not responded to our request for a comment.

[UPDATE: July 7, 2016 5:00 pm]

After this article appeared, Irvine Co. spokesperson John Christensen contacted us to say that O’Loughlin will not be evicted from the Woodbridge Villas because “Versace is no longer on the premises and has been rescued by German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County.” 

According to Robert Newman, O’Loughlin’s lawyer, however,  the Irvine Co. is proposing that O’Loughlin pay $945 in legal fees—for a printed out eviction notice. When we asked Christensen about these alleged fees, he said that he didn’t know anything about them, and that the extent of his knowledge is that Michael isn’t getting evicted. 

[Original Post: July 7, 2016 7:29 am]

Last year, two Irvine Company apartment-complex tenants filed lawsuits against the OC-based real estate development enterprise and its apartment affiliate for discriminating against them for needing emotional-support animals. In December of 2015 the Irvine Co. settled with the tenants for $175,000 each. You’d think they would have learned their lesson after forking out over $350,000 plus the plaintiffs’ legal fees. But Michael O’Loughlin’s recent experience  at Woodbridge Villas suggests otherwise.

When he was 27, O’Loughlin fell and broke his neck in a hiking accident in Hawaii. A quadriplegic, he now relies heavily on caretakers and nurses to help with everyday tasks. He also depends on his emotional-support dog named Versace, a three-year-old German Shepherd. “It sounds cheesy,” O’Loughlin says, “but the dog’s taught me a lot about love. He’s given me so much happiness and has helped me in so many ways…One time my I.V bag fell and he was able to pick it up for me.”

On June 22, O’Loughlin was returning from a wound care center when his wheelchair malfunctioned, launching him into the bushes. His caretaker didn’t hear his initial cries for help. According to O’Loughlin, the first one to his aid was his high school-aged neighbor; his caretaker arrived shortly thereafter. But during the rescue, he says, his back door and patio gate were left open, allowing Versace to escape. The dog briefly chased the young neighbor. 

Although Versace didn’t bite anyone, he does have a history of getting out of the apartment. And as a young, rambunctious German Shepherd, Versace has been known to run amok when he’s escaped the apartment. But never once has he harmed anyone, according to O’Loughlin and his Lawyer, Robert Newman.

After Versace chased the girl, who suffered minor scratches, Animal Control arrived at the scene to investigate, took a report and left. A week later, O’Loughlin received a letter from the Irvine Co. stating that he was being evicted because Versace posed a threat to residents in the complex. “The letter has a list of complaints and some of them are really ridiculous,” says O’Loughlin. “One of them accuses Versace of barking at a tenant’s daughter as she rode her bike . . . which caused the her to fall off the bike.”

To keep from getting kicked out of Woodbridge Villas, where O’Loughlin’s been an affordable housing tenant for over 30 years, he says he surrendered Versace to German Shepherd Rescue of Orange County. “It breaks my heart, but ideally for Versace, it would be better for him to have a yard to run around in and a family to be with,” O’Loughlin says.

But when O’Loughlin told the leasing office at Woodbridge Villas that he gave Versace to German Shepherd Rescue, they said he was still being evicted. John Christensen, an Irvine Co. spokesperson, said in a phone interview yesterday that he wasn’t aware that Versace had been given to German Shepherd Rescue and was under the assumption that O’Loughlin was still facing eviction.

“I have nowhere else to go,” says O’Loughlin. “I don’t have the money to move and I don’t have the money to pay for anything else, on top of not being able to keep my dog, my buddy. They just don’t care.”

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