Jane O'Grady, 97, in jeopardy of eviction from Lakes at Pointe West home because of smoking habit

VERO BEACH, Fla. - Jane O'Grady is 97 years old.

She is hard of hearing and has a glass eye.

And, much to the chagrin of a local assisted and independent living facility, she smokes.

The Lakes at Pointe West has told her she will be evicted if she doesn't stop smoking inside her one-bedroom apartment.

She has lived there since 2005.

Smoking wasn't an issue when she moved in — they knew of her habit. However, three years ago, the facility implemented a smoke-free policy.

According to Alton Mendleson, the executive director, she is the only resident (out of 198) who smokes.

"The resident has denied all alternatives and continues to smoke in our buildings," Mendleson said in a media statement. "We are saddened that she has made this decision, but we are ultimately responsible for the safety and well-being of our entire community. We cannot ignore the safety issues presented by this situation or the effect it has on our residents' health and living environment.

"Consequently, she has made the decision that she is to be required to move out by eviction."

Gulp.

I know what you're thinking.

"BUT SHE'S 97!!!"

Indeed, at this stage of her life, quitting doesn't seem like a realistic option. She started smoking at age 20.

She said she tried taking a popular smoking-cessation pill — the one whose disclaimers in a TV commercial go on and on — but she quit after experiencing nightmares, which is one of the side effects.

One of the alternatives offered by the facility was to let her smoke outside. That didn't work either.

"I went outside," she said, "and then it turned so cold, I couldn't stand it."

She now smokes about 10 cigarettes a day in the privacy of her apartment.

Mendleson contends the smell of cigarette smoke permeates the hallway near her unit, which makes it difficult to attract potential renters.

Bill Stewart, an attorney representing O'Grady, said he doesn't know whether The Lakes at Pointe West will commence an eviction action.

"If it does, then Mrs. O'Grady will resist that action vigorously," he said. "While Mrs. O'Grady is very concerned about the uncertainty of her living accommodations, which is taking a toll on her, she is very intelligent, has a lot of spunk and is not one to back away when she believes that she is in the right."

As O'Grady said, she never would have signed a lease in '05 if smoking was prohibited.

"The operator of the assisted-living facility was well aware that Mrs. O'Grady was a smoker," Stewart said. "Permission to smoke in the unit was a motivating factor for Mrs. O'Grady to sign the lease."

He contends The Lakes at Pointe West's smoke-free policy isn't applicable in this situation. Her smoking is effectively grandfathered — or grandmothered, if you will — into their rental agreement.

"While the tenancy is month to month, the rights of the facility operator to terminate the lease are limited essentially to a breach of the terms of the Occupancy Agreement," he said.

How did O'Grady react when she was told she would be evicted if she didn't stop smoking in her apartment?

"I was absolutely stunned," she said. "I didn't see it coming at all."

The first thing she did was call her son, Liam O'Grady, who is a federal judge in Virginia.

"I needed a shoulder to cry on," she said. "He said, 'Don't worry, Mom, I'll take care of it.' "

Liam O'Grady promptly secured the services of Stewart.

"I try real hard not to be depressed," she said.

The friends who joined her for lunch on Tuesday — Everett Chamberlain and his wife, Randi, and Margie Decker — used words like "worried" and "scared" to describe how she has acted since receiving the eviction notice.

Decker wrote a letter to the editor about her friend's plight.

Jane O'Grady has had a rough couple of months. Before being faced with the possibility of eviction, she received news in November that her son, Michael O'Grady Jr., a former longtime CEO of Indian River Medical Center, died in Illinois at age 65.

"She was heartbroken," Randi Chamberlain said. "She didn't expect him to die before she did. That was a big blow. She was very close to him."

Jane O'Grady did not go to the funeral in Illinois, but she did attend the memorial service in Vero Beach.

Her husband of 50 years, Michael O'Grady Sr., died in 1988.

The Lakes at Pointe West is owned by Senior Living Communities, which is based in Charlotte, N.C. It operates 12 facilities, including four in Florida.

In a letter dated Jan. 5, Mendleson gave O'Grady 30 days to move out of her apartment. He gave her noncompliance to the smoking ban as the reason.

"If smoking was going to be a problem for the operator, it should have thought of that when it signed the Occupancy Agreement (in 2004)," Stewart said. "There is no reason why Mrs. O'Grady should suffer at this point for the operator's oversight."

Now that the 30 days have passed, and O'Grady didn't move out, Mendleson said the issue is with the corporate attorneys.

"I don't know if this matter can be settled to everyone's satisfaction," Stewart

said. "We will have to wait and see what happens."

Surely the corporate attorneys for Senior Living Communities won't play hardball with this.

The little-used "BUT SHE'S 97!!!" argument makes this a slam dunk, in favor of Jane O'Grady, in the court of public opinion.

Russ Lemmon is a columnist for Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers. This column reflects his opinion. For more on Indian River County topics, follow his blog at TCPalm.com/lemmon. Contact him at 772-978-2205 or russ.lemmon@scripps.com . He will appear on WTTB 1490 AM's "Morning Magazine" at 8:50 a.m. Friday.

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