Condo association trying to evict 88-year-old woman’s cat should use common sense

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.

“This is not a situation where we’ve got a python in the living room that’s causing a danger to

Ron 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.

society,” 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 health.”

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 category:

  • 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 the cat.

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 last week.

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 case.

“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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