Article Courtesy of The TCPalm
By Eve Samples
Published November 15, 2010
STUART, Florida — Common sense does not
always prevail over matters of the law.
In the case of Mitzy the cat, a local
condominium association has a chance to ensure that it does.
|For more than a year,
Mitzy has been at the center of a tempest involving her
owners, Ron and Bea Garza, and the condominium association
at Vista Pines, where the Garzas live.
Like many associations, Vista Pines
has a “no pets” rule. It has refused to waive it for
Mitzy, even though a doctor has said the feline helps
88-year-old Bea cope with her dementia and depression.
The association sued the Garzas in
May to make them “permanently remove the illegal cat.”
The quarrel was headed for a
December court hearing, with the association demanding
that the Garzas pay almost $7,400 in attorneys fees and
costs — but now the two sides are allowing 30 more days
to come up with an agreement, according to a lawyer
representing the Garzas.
is not a situation where we’ve got a python in the
living room that’s causing a danger to
and Bea Garza give a treat to their cat Mitzy at their home in Vista
Pines in Stuart in 2009. With their doctor’s recommendation, Ron
adopted Mitzy from the Humane Society to help with Bea’s dementia.
Because Vista Pines doesn’t allow pets, and someone reported they
had one, the Garza’s are now in a legal battle with the home
owners association to keep Mitzy in their home.
said Richard Brown, the Vero Beach attorney who took on the Garzas’ case
for free. “This woman has a small cat, and she needs it for her mental
He will make his case to the Vista Pines Association
in the coming weeks, encouraging them to take the common-sense approach.
“This doesn’t need to be taken as far as it’s
been taken,” Brown said.
The Garzas’ battle is not unique. It has played out
in other condo communities in other counties and other states.
The Fair Housing Act often protects the pet-owners —
so long as they can prove they have a disability, and the pet alleviates the
effects of that disability.
Common sense tells us Bea’s case falls into that
- She has dementia and depression;
- The dementia makes her feel isolated and anxious;
- The cat helps with those symptoms.
Therefore, Mitzy should qualify as an “emotional
support animal” under federal law.
Yet Vista Pines Association, and its Fort
Lauderdale-based law firm, Becker & Poliakoff, has refused to see it
that way. Instead, it has seized on procedural issues in its effort to evict
They still have time to come around.
By agreeing to let the Garzas keep Mitzy, and by
acknowledging that Bea has legitimate rights under the Fair Housing Act, the
association’s board members can embrace common sense while avoiding a
federal court battle.
They can bring some comfort to an ailing woman, too.
The Garzas adopted the cat from a shelter two years
ago so Bea would have a companion while Ron was out working as a handyman.
“That cat has just been a godsend,” Ron told me
Still, the lawsuit has drained his spirits a bit.
A handful of residents of the community have chided
him for triggering an expensive legal battle.
“There’s a few people here that say, ‘You know,
you’re costing us money,’” Ron Garza said. “I say, ‘No, we’re
not costing us money. Your damn board’s costing you money.’”
He has made no secret of his views.
His vocal approach has exasperated other residents,
including Edith Cahill.
“If we say she can have a cat, then everyone will
want a cat,” Cahill told me.
But common sense tells us the Garzas have a valid
“Sometimes, there’s law, and sometimes there’s
common sense, and sometimes those two don’t come together — but
hopefully this time it will,” Brown said.
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