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Marine Corps veteran Robert Lorentz, 37, who has terminal bone cancer, receives care in his Phoenix apartment from friends such as Hayley Wray, left. (Jay McSpadden/KPNX-TV, Phoenix)
PHOENIX — Robert Lorentz wants nothing more than to die at home near family and friends.
The 37-year-old Marine Corps veteran is making his last stand in a shabby apartment.
With four months to live, Lorentz isn’t just fighting terminal bone cancer. He’s also fighting his landlord and threats of eviction over the stream of people going in and out of his studio at all hours of the day and night.
Lorentz, who was homeless and living on the streets until last year, describes his “street family” as caregivers. They change him, clean him, feed him, light his smokes, fix his meals and help him to the bathroom.
“I’m deadly scared of hospice and nursing homes,” Lorentz rasped from the bed where he is largely confined. “This is around my family. It’s close to my clinic. It’s where I want to be.”
Apartment owner Emanuel Dobos said he has tremendous sympathy for Lorentz and doesn’t want to evict him. But he said all the people crowding into Lorentz’s studio are causing disturbances, bothering other tenants and trashing the small complex.
He said he is concerned that Lorentz’s caregivers are squatters using his apartment as a crash pad.
“They kiss, make out in front. They fight. They do all kinds of stuff,” Dobos said. “I don’t think that (Lorentz) wants them there. He’d rather have peace and quiet.”
The conflict between tenant and landlord is exacerbated not just by Lorentz’s condition but by the complex itself.
The squat, U-shaped two-story has been the subject of multiple code violations. It is a place where occupants dry their wash on the fence surrounding the drained, broken pool. Stray cats wander outdoors as freely as the cockroaches indoors. At least one apartment has been deemed uninhabitable, and the laundry room is in disrepair.
Dobos said he bent over backward to work things out with Lorentz before giving him a verbal eviction notice three months ago and warning that he had 30 days to vacate the premises. Since then, Dobos said, the problems have continued unabated. He said he called the police two weeks ago.
“I’ve tried to reason with them,” Dobos said. “I have tried not to evict him. But something needs to be done.”
Lorentz pays about $590 a month for a studio next door to his mother’s apartment at the front of the complex. Because his rent is arranged through homeless advocacy organization Hom Inc., Lorentz never has missed or been late on a rent payment.
On any given day, as many as six people can be found inside Lorentz’s unit. A couple work in the kitchen preparing food, another holds a drink for Lorentz to sip. Others sit with him and talk. There is constant movement, with people going to and from his mother’s apartment and outside.
Lorentz’s cousin Ray Steele said it takes many people to provide care for his “blood brother.” He said Lorentz used to be able to walk, but now he can barely raise himself from bed, let alone get out of it without help.
He said Lorentz’s doctor last month gave him a prognosis of four months to live. Steele said he and his wife reached out to as many friends and relatives as they could to help.
Steele said the landlord should leave Lorentz alone. He said the extended family has taken steps to minimize noise and traffic, going so far as to post a sign on the front door calling for quiet after 9 p.m.
The landlord is afraid that the more people pay attention to Lorentz, the more questions will be raised about the apartment and conditions there, Steele and others said.
Calls to Hom Inc. about its screening and placement processes were not returned last week.
Dobos acknowledged the issues with the apartment but said he is working to fix them. He also blamed any bug infestations and the general condition of Lorentz’s apartment on the number of people “living there.” He said other units in the apartment are nice and quiet without the same problems.
“If there are things with the apartment, it is because of my financial situation,” he said, adding that Roanoke is the last of several properties he owned before the real-estate market bottomed out. “I barely saved it. ... Each apartment ... is nice and it is working.”
Dobos said he recently evicted two renters from the apartment complex over disturbances. He said he receives complaints from other tenants about the noise and traffic in Lorentz’s unit almost daily.
Arizona law tends to favor landlords, according to tenant-rights specialists. They say evictions can be executed swiftly without delays experienced in other states.
Dobos said he does not want to evict Lorentz. He said he has respect for the Iraq war veteran, who was discharged from the service in 2007 after being diagnosed with cancer. That is why Dobos did not follow through on his original threat to evict.
Dobos said he is a Christian who in the past brought Lorentz and his mother to his church. He said he understands Lorentz’s situation.”If you talk to other tenants, they will tell you that I am too nice,” Dobos said. “I’m trying to help, even now.”
Lorentz said Dobos hasn’t shown much empathy. Not that Lorentz wants any. He said what he really wants is to be left alone long enough to fulfill a modest bucket list that includes a trip to the Grand Canyon and a chance to go fishing.
“I’m a Marine,” Lorentz said. “I know being a fighter will keep me alive for more than four months.”