Realty company works with Iraq war veteran couple to stay in home

by: Jeff Smith Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

A Charlotte realty company said it's working with two Iraq war veterans so they don't have to worry about losing their home.

Ashley Horton and Michael Van Deren are both Iraq war veterans who use service dogs. But only Horton is on the lease, and the realty company has repeatedly told her Van Deren can't live at their Cotswald home.

Bailey isn't just an ordinary boxer; she's a service dog who helps Horton with her post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms that she's been experiencing since her tour in Iraq with the Marines.

"We're just trying to reason. We really just want understanding and compassion," Horton said.

Her boyfriend, also a former Marine, came to live with her last month as he tries to find a job and resume his education.

Michael Van Deren is also an Iraq war vet, but he uses a much larger service dog -- a Great Dane -- to help with night terrors, anxiety and panic in public places.

"It's pretty emotional, life always throws unexpected turns," Van Deren said. "It's just another challenge ahead of me, finding a place that will work with me or just to have some understanding and be heard."

Berryhill Realty Company recently sent Horton a letter, saying "Allowing any other person and especially a large dog" violates the lease, and that "the unpermitted occupant and the dog must leave immediately."

"It's saddening, disheartening, that someone has closed their hearts and minds to service dogs and to veterans," Horton said.

A Berryhill representative told Eyewitness News they respect Michael Van Deren's service and his need for a service dog, but he isn't on the lease and therefore can't live there for liability reasons.

"Our issue here is the fact that this person is an unpermitted occupant in one of our properties," said Lee Fike with the realty company. "They would have to qualify on their own and meet all of the qualifications that everyone who rents from us meets."

Horton said she's been stonewalled over the last week when trying to add Van Deren to the lease because he's unemployed and uses such a large service dog.

Fike agreed her company can look into making an exception in this case.

"Could things change?" asked Eyewitness News.

"That would be determined based on the policies of this unit, and the owners' wishes," Fike said.

"We can look into that, but I don't have answer right now," she added.