Pet peeve leads to a threat of eviction

Having a cat could cost a disabled Hollywood woman her home.


Article Courtesy of  The Miami Herald

Published August 6, 2005

The day Mary Cummings adopted Boo two years ago, she thought she might have saved the white kitten from being put to sleep, and found a much-needed distraction from her chronic ailments.

Cummings took Boo into her Hollywood mobile home, where she lives alone, and officially inducted him into her family by displaying his picture on the living room wall with the same prominence as her granddaughters.

Now, she's reconsidering her act of kindness. Adopting Boo might end up getting her kicked out of her home, at Orangebrook Mobile Homes Estates.

The 53-year-old woman got a letter this week from Jon Hinden, Orangebrook's attorney, telling her that if she did not leave voluntarily within a month, she would be evicted. The reason? Boo the cat.

The letter was the final notice, after another letter four weeks prior giving Cummings seven days to remove the feline.

Hinden did not return phone calls made on Thursday and Friday to his Davie office.

''When I got the eviction notice, I called the lawyer's office and said, `OK, I think this is unfair, but I will get rid of the cat,'' said Cummings. 'They said, `Sorry, you still have to move.' ''

Cummings would have a slim chance of finding another place for $425 a month. That's what she pays in rent, and it's all she can afford. ''I would be out in the street,'' she said.

Cummings lives on a $750 Social Security monthly check, and get another $300 a month from a retirement pension. Her medical expenses consume most of her income.

She is unable to work because of her severe disabilities: chronic heart and lung diseases, diabetes, and a rare disorder that causes the joints in her legs to be flooded with blood. She uses a wheelchair most of the time.

Herald readers helped pay for repairs for Cummings' leaky roof a few months ago after she was featured in one of the paper's annual holiday Wishbook articles.

But pets are against the community rules. Cummings knew this, but she thought the prohibition was not being enforced.

''There are two other cats in this street alone,'' she said. "No one hides them. They roam around.''

A resident who did not know Cummings, said she was surprise that anyone would be evicted because of a cat.

''I saw it in the rules that you're not allowed to have pets, but I've seen a few cats around here,'' said Lalin Spagnuolo, a resident of two years.

She said she thought cats were not part of the prohibition.

Cummings said she thinks the rule is being enforced selectively against her because she is a leader of the park's homeowner association.

''I am the secretary, and a very vocal one, of the home owners association,'' she said.

Turns out, Orangebrook management did not want to recognize the association as legal, said the homeowners' group president, Harry Horlick.

''First they said we did not conform with the statutes because we had not gathered the right amount of signatures to create the group,'' said Horlick. ``Then they said we could not use the recreational room for meetings without a $2 million insurance policy.''

The association filed a complaint with the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The matter was resolved in favor of the association, said Horlick.

The DBPR official that handled the complaint, was not reachable on Friday.

''They didn't want the homeowners to have a voice in all the things that happen here. Guess what, they couldn't stop it,'' she said.

Days after the association prevailed, Cummings was cited for her cat.

Although Orangebrook is acting within its rights, enforcing the rules selectively is never good policy, said the state's condominium ombudsman, Virgil Rizzo.

''You can't choose when to enforce and when not'', said Rizzo. "Judges don't like that, and selective enforcement has been used successfully as a defense. The problem is, the burden of proof will be on her.''

Another court precedent says that when a previously unenforced rule is suddenly enforced, there must be a reasonable grace period before imposing sanctions.

For Cummings, this is just as disheartening. She can't afford a lawyer.

''$500 is the same as $5 million: I don't have it,'' she said.