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Ray Duckler: Issue gets hot before the heat comes on

  • Chris Shuler holds his newborn son Greyson while hanging out at home on Friday night with his wife Gabrielle, who was crafting with their oldest daughter Sophie, 6, at their Hillsboro apartment. The Shulers have three kids and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have relocate within 90 days. Because they have to move soon, they decided to forgo a larger traditional Christmas tree and got the little one that sits on their dining table. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Chris Shuler holds his newborn son Greyson while hanging out at home on Friday night with his wife Gabrielle, who was crafting with their oldest daughter Sophie, 6, at their Hillsboro apartment. The Shulers have three kids and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have relocate within 90 days. Because they have to move soon, they decided to forgo a larger traditional Christmas tree and got the little one that sits on their dining table.
    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Gabrielle Shuler sifts through her crafting drawer for some materials to use with her daughter Sophie, 6, right, while hanging out at their Hillsboro apartment on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Gabrielle Shuler sifts through her crafting drawer for some materials to use with her daughter Sophie, 6, right, while hanging out at their Hillsboro apartment on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Mollie Shuler, 2, wakes up from the nap she was taking on the couch in her family's Hillsboro apartment on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Gabrielle Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Mollie Shuler, 2, wakes up from the nap she was taking on the couch in her family's Hillsboro apartment on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Gabrielle Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Chris Shuler holds his newborn son Grayson while looking for a diaper on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Gabrielle Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

    Chris Shuler holds his newborn son Grayson while looking for a diaper on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Gabrielle Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment.

    (ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

  • Chris Shuler holds his newborn son Greyson while hanging out at home on Friday night with his wife Gabrielle, who was crafting with their oldest daughter Sophie, 6, at their Hillsboro apartment. The Shulers have three kids and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have relocate within 90 days. Because they have to move soon, they decided to forgo a larger traditional Christmas tree and got the little one that sits on their dining table. <br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Gabrielle Shuler sifts through her crafting drawer for some materials to use with her daughter Sophie, 6, right, while hanging out at their Hillsboro apartment on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Mollie Shuler, 2, wakes up from the nap she was taking on the couch in her family's Hillsboro apartment on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Gabrielle Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)
  • Chris Shuler holds his newborn son Grayson while looking for a diaper on Friday night, December 6, 2013. Gabrielle Shuler and her husband Chris have three kids, including a days-old newborn, and a landlord that lost the house they rent to the bank because of delinquent property taxes. After telling them of the foreclosure, he took the heater, leaving them to heat their home with space heaters in addition to having to find a new place. The bank is helping them by installing a new system, but they still have 90 days to find an apartment. <br/><br/>(ANDREA MORALES / Monitor staff)

Ask Gabrielle and Chris Shuler what happened, and they’ll say they got the cold shoulder from their former landlord, Melford Hafford.

Hafford’s take? That’s a different story.

In the end, Gabrielle and her family, which includes a newborn baby boy and two little girls, still have heat in their Hillsboro apartment. They have more time to find another place to live before the bank takes possession of their home. And they’re smiling more these days, after a Thanksgiving dinner that gobbled up their holiday spirit.

Hafford, meanwhile, is back home in northern Maine, the two-family house he’d been renting out no longer his, the cordial, even friendly relationship he once shared with the Shulers gone, probably forever.

It’s a classic case of they said, he said, an ugly episode in which the landlord, delinquent on his property taxes, lost his house to foreclosure, and the tenants, struggling to pay their bills, believed they weren’t given the time or compassion to rebuild their lives.

“I tried to work with them,” Hafford said by phone from Caribou, Maine, a small town near the Canadian border. “It sucks for everyone here. They were great people and great tenants, and this really shocks me.”

The Shulers are shocked, too. Gabrielle, an agent for U.S. Cellular, is on leave after a difficult pregnancy and a C-section five days ago.

Chris, sacked from an IT job at a car dealership after the market crashed five years ago, went back to college and will earn his degree in health information management this spring.

They are an odd couple of sorts, she the ball of fire whose emotions spill out and whose nickname, Gabby, fits nicely; he the quiet type who lets his wife take center stage in most cases.

“Complete opposites,” Gabrielle said.

Hafford is a 48-year-old army veteran, living in what is billed as the most northeastern city in the country, with a French-Canadian accent.

He’s been a landlord for about 12 years, renting in New

Hampshire and befriending Gabrielle after she realized he lived in the area in which she grew up. His wife even knew some of Gabrielle’s cousins.

The relationship crumbled when the Shulers received a letter, dated Oct. 30, from a law firm representing the mortgagee of the house, People’s United Bank.

The letter told the couple that the mortgagor, Hafford, had to sell due to “breach of conditions.” The letter also documented the day of the upcoming auction, Dec. 3 at the West Main Street residence in Hillsboro.

A feud had begun.

“He (Hafford) told us he had no idea (the letter) was coming,” said Gabrielle, who added that she wasn’t convinced her landlord was being truthful.

Seeking another voice for this column, I asked Chris to contact his neighbors, who live in an apartment sectioned off in a different area of the house. Chris texted Amy Cantara, who lives with her boyfriend. The two also have to move.

“(Hafford) told us that (foreclosure) could happen, but it was not a definite,” Cantara texted back. “So in that case, I don’t think we were treated fairly. I’m disappointed.”

Hafford countered by saying that an October notice to the couple should have given them plenty of time to make other arrangements.

He also said that, before losing the house he’d bought nearly six years before, he needed to remove the outside heating stove, which he said cost $14,000. That was the house’s heat source.

“(The bank) told me if I left it there that I might lose it, because after Friday the house was not mine,” Hafford said. “I told Chris that, so I left it outside right to the end.”

Hafford claims he told the couple he’d provide propane heating when he came down to retrieve the outdoor furnace, which he took last Saturday.

“I told them to get the tank,” Hafford said. “They had a month to get it. I told them there was a propane hookup, and that when I came back down, I would be more than happy to hook it up. They didn’t get the tank. They wanted me to get the tank.”

“If that option was there, I would have done it,” Gabrielle said. “I would not have left my kids without heat.”

Later, Gabrielle’s research told her that, by law, she had 90 days after the foreclosure date to find a new place to live. In the meantime, the couple concluded, didn’t that mean heat was included?

The couple panicked, terrified they’d lose their heat in a home that included 5-year-old Sophie, 2-year-old Molly and newborn Grayson.

So on Thanksgiving, four days before the auction, Gabrielle worked the phones, calling the local police, the state police, the sheriff’s department, the federal court, the superior court.

She was told that paperwork needed to be finished before action could be taken. Or that the problem was out of their jurisdiction. Or she was told nothing at all, since no one answered the phone on the holiday.

Space heaters, donated after a plea for help on Facebook, saved the day for a while. Baking muffins also helped heat the place.

Tempers have since cooled. The bank has agreed to give the family time to find somewhere else to live, and it also financed a heating system, which was installed over the past three days.

With the outdoor furnace now gone, driven away in Hafford’s truck last weekend, the bank takeover and the Shuler family looking ahead, this landlord-tenant nightmare is over.

“I do feel bad for them, but it’s not like I held anything from them,” Hafford said. “I was honest. I told them what was going on.”

Said Gabrielle, “He drove off with the woodstove and never came back. I thought he had more respect for us than that.”

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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