AC could cost him $100,000
Courtesy of Houston Chronicle
By THOM MARSHALL
Posted Aug. 6, 2002
How can anyone in Houston, Texas, the AC
capital of the entire world, be on the verge of losing his home for following
a doctor's advice to put a little unit in the bedroom window?
About four years ago, Mohammad Hashmi's
doctor told him he needs a window-unit air conditioner to filter the air
he breathes because central systems put out too much mold and dust.
But the homeowners association at Palm
Gardens Condominiums in southwest Houston said window-unit ACs would have
a negative impact on the aesthetics of the complex and would not be allowed.
After Hashmi followed his doctor's advice
anyway, the association sued and a couple of months ago won a judgment
for penalties and legal fees that now total more than four times the $25,500
value of Hashmi's condo (as set by the Harris County Appraisal District).
Disability makes life difficult
Hashmi, 47, went to court Tuesday afternoon
with a motion for a new trial. His lawyer, David Kahne, who only recently
got involved in the case, contends Hashmi's disability rights and fair
housing issues were given short shrift in the previous legal wranglings.
The case originally was on the morning
docket, but Kahne asked the judge to reset it for the afternoon to accommodate
Hashmi's health problems.
You know how sometimes it's hard to wake
up and even after sleeping all night you are so tired you can barely function?
Well, that's apparently as good as it ever gets for Hashmi.
According to documents provided by Kahne,
one doctor said Hashmi's condition of central nervous system hypersomnolence
"makes it difficult and dangerous for Mr. Hashmi to try to schedule meetings
in the morning. I schedule my appointments with Mr. Hashmi in the afternoon,
always after 2:30 p.m."
A letter from a doctor at Baylor College
of Medicine's Sleep Disorders and Research Center described the sleep disorder
as incurable and said it causes Hashmi "to have unpredictable and irresistible
sleep attacks especially in the morning."
In addition to the sleep disorder, a third
doctor certified that Hashmi's severe allergies "cause him so severe and
debilitating fatigue and body ache that, for several days to several weeks
at a time, he becomes totally disabled and remains confined to his bed
24 hours a day. This condition also aggravates his sleep disorder. ...
Since the primary source of dust and mold circulation and regrowth is air
ducts of (the) central air conditioning and heating system, Mr. Hashmi
has been advised that he must use a window air conditioning and heating
Hashmi said he moved here from his native
India as a young man and has since become a U.S. citizen. He said he had
a good job with Continental Airlines but lost it a few years ago when growing
health problems caused him to miss too much work.
Homeowners spat tops others
I dropped by his place Monday evening
and called him from the locked complex entrance at the arranged time. Took
him quite awhile to get there. He walked as though he didn't feel well.
When he talked he sounded as though he didn't feel well. An approaching
thunderstorm had taken the hot edge off the day, but Hashmi was sweating
like a lunchtime jogger.
We went around back of his place for a
look at the $100,000-plus window unit. Nothing unusual. A metal box sticking
out a few inches, much like other metal boxes jutting out from the brick
wall. Hashmi said those other boxes housed individual ACs before the complex
installed central systems. Removing them would mean major work filling
in the brick.
Maybe you have read about other incredible
battles between individual homeowners and the associations that rule over
them -- expensive legal fights sparked by such insignificant infractions
as an oil stain on a driveway or the location of an outdoor gas lamp.
This one may top them all.
After meeting for well over an hour with
lawyers from both sides in her chambers, Judge Lynn Bradshaw-Hull reset
the hearing for Aug. 15. The two sides will meet in mediation before then
to try to resolve this bizarre dispute. And, by the way, that Aug. 15 session
is set for 2:30 in the afternoon.