by Thom Marshall, Houston Chronicle
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 AC’s 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 unit.”
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 AC’s 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.