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Dain Sullivan, Forum Communications Co., Published February 25 2012

Dickinson couple with handicapped son told to leave after failing to pay rent on time

DICKINSON, N.D. - A couple living in a Dickinson trailer park said management is kicking them out of their home of 13 years and robbing their handicapped son of vital health requirements.

Like other renters at Heartland Village in Dickinson, Fred and Char Pilot have been told to leave their home. Heartland has given various residents different reasons for cleaning house this week.

Keith Kress, general counsel for Heartland, said the couple has been continuously late with their rent.

“We commenced eviction proceedings against the Pilots, due to their repeated failure to pay rents, owing and due, as is documented in the complaint filed with the court,” Kress said in an email.

Kress did not return calls made by The Press. He also did not comment on the other residents whose leases have been terminated.

Char admits that she and her husband have struggled to meet payment deadlines in the past, but said it is because much of their money goes toward keeping their son alive.

“(Our son) ends up in the hospital a lot,” Char said Friday as tears streamed down her face. She added that his medical bills often make it hard to pay rent on time, but rent is always paid in full.

The Pilots’ misfortune arrives days after Heartland Homes Manager Val Fugett told The Press 40 other residents, living in RVs, must vacate the grounds to make room for new manufactured homes.

“The plan has been cast, the investment has been made and the homes are being manufactured with delivery starting in March,” Fugett said Wednesday.

Char said her son, 22-year-old Lance Dolajak, experienced difficulties when he was born and he has many limitations, including breathing problems, blindness and an inability to walk. She and her husband spent more than a decade making sure Lance could comfortably live in their home.

“We made (the house) handicap accessible for him, ramps and everything,” she said.

Fred understands that Heartland Village is a business, but is devastated that anyone would abandon a special needs individual.

“I have nothing wrong with somebody making money, but they shouldn’t be able to destroy your life to do it,” said Fred as he attempted to hide tears. “Heartland don’t have a heart. I don’t even know how they got the name Heartland. It should be heartless.”

Fred added that he built his house with special access points for his son. Now Heartland is telling the couple to move the entire house out of Heartland, he said.

Fred and Char said they own their house, but rent the plot it sits on from Heartland.

With all the custom changes Fred has made to the house, he said it would be nearly impossible to move.

“I built this place, and it’s pre-stationary,” he said. “I don’t know how I’m going to move it.”

City Administrator Shawn Kessel said he does not know the whole story behind Heartland’s actions toward residents, but he empathizes with people who are being driven out.

“Obviously, it’s difficult when anybody gets evicted from their homes, especially when they don’t want to leave,” Kessel said. “I understand (residents) are desperate. I’m not sure what we can do as a city in response to that.”

Kessel added that he hopes a proposal to build more affordable housing in town is passed when he presents the issue during an upcoming city commission meeting. He added that more affordable housing would be just what Heartland outcasts need right now.

On Friday, Fred said he expected police to “come any time” with an eviction notice. Even if the house could be lifted from the ground, the couple said they cannot afford to move it.

“It costs $10,000 just to move a home,” Char said. “We don’t have that kind of money.”

While times are tough, Fred and Char said they are just happy to be together as a family, and their main wish is to take care of Lance.

“We do everything for him,” Char said. “He’s our life."