Fred, Harry and Chris Klein have lived in the same house in Columbus, Ohio for all of their lives. The house belonged to their parents and, before them, to their grandparents. The brothers all have developmental disabilities and are getting older — they are 70, 68 and 59, respectively — and the house is getting more and more dilapidated. The city of Columbus says that at least $75,000 in repairs must be carried out to bring the house in line with the building and environmental code.
But the brothers do not have the funds and could be forced to leave the only place they have ever lived. Should they be allowed to stay?
The house has been a mess for years, stuffed with seemingly all manner of paper, plastic, wood and metal. Stacks of videocassettes, broken electronics and knick-knacks spill onto the dirty, bowed floor. There’s no hot water, and the place smells bad.
From reading that description, you might find it hard to question a ruling made last May by former environmental judge Harland Hale, who told the brothers that they must vacate the house and “tend to their personal hygiene.”
But it must be taken into account that the three brothers have lived on their own for quite a few years. The Kleins are “free, like most other adults, to make their own decisions”; they do not have guardians and have managed their own finances. They used to work as ride operators at the old Gooding Amusement Park next to the Columbus Zoo.
Forcing the Brothers Out “Would Have Been Almost Cruel”
The Franklin County Board of Developmental Disabilities provides services for two of the brothers and has been working with the city of Columbus and code-enforcement supervisor Janine Aeh.
As Aeh herself notes, it “would have been almost cruel” to force the brothers out of their house. Assistant City Attorney Kristen Kroflich underscores that the city has no interest in fining or jailing them but points out that their house is simply “not habitable.”
Back in May, the local disabilities board had offered to put the three brothers into a hotel rather than emergency respite so they could stay together. For the Kleins, leaving their family home is not an option. They have stayed in their old neighborhood, using their sister’s house (which is next to their house) as a “base” from which they are trying to clean up the clutter.
Despite the condition of the Kleins’ house, one neighbor, Gilbert Rigsby, says that he does not want to see it destroyed as the brothers “need the house where they were born and raised.”
The city of Columbus seems to be trying to respect the brothers’ rights. Kroflich has not sought a demolition order because she wants them to have an attorney. A lawyer, Jack D’Aurora, has been sent from the Columbus Bar Association to represent them at no charge.
Who Makes the Decision For an Adult With Developmental Disabilities?
Fred, Harry and Chris Kleins’ case, and a recent decision by the Supreme Court of Mexico to allow a 25-year-old man with Asperger’s Syndrome, Ricardo Adair, to make “key decisions about his life without parental consent,” underscore the challenges my husband and I face in mapping out the future for our teenage son Charlie, who’s on the severe end of the autism spectrum.
Unlike the three Klein brothers, Charlie will need to have a guardian. We will assume this role when he turns 18 but must be sure the task falls to someone else who we can trust when we’re gone. Much as we would like him to be able to make his own decisions, as Margaret “Jenny” Hatch recently won the right to do, the extent of his intellectual disabilities makes such unlikely.
We are thinking ahead about where Charlie will live and with whom when he is an adult. As he gets older, how can we make sure his changing needs are met? Charlie is not likely to be able to manage his own finances. How can we make sure these are used prudently and with his best interests in mind?
One thing I am keeping very much in mind is Charlie’s own (often fierce) resistance to change. That is something the Klein brothers have, based on a statement from Fred about their determination to stay together and in a place that means home: “We’ve been together all these years. Just like married life. There ain’t no getting a divorce.”
But what about the point at which the home that your heart is in is simply no longer habitable?
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