Monday, September 12, 2011
Help Me Howard: Cats & Dogs
What would you do if someone told you, 'You have to get rid of your cat or dog, and if you don't, we are going to fine you $10 a day.' Sounds absurd, but it's going on in South Florida, where one condo board is battling nearly 100 residents who couldn't beat the board, so they called in Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
WSVN -- In life, people come and go. Your pets will never leave you.
Ingrid Gruber, Cat Owner: "It's just nice to come home, because they sit and they wait for me."
Ingrid has her cats. Barbara has her little dog.
Barbara Francisco, Dog Lover: "Knows when you're sick, knows when you're not feeling well. He sits by you constantly."
Lynda is battling cancer, and her cats give her comfort.
Lynda Durand, Cat Owner: "I brought them from New York. One is 9 years old, one is 8 years old."
They all live at Mayberry Mansions Condos, where technically, animals are not allowed.
But the rule banning pets has never been enforced.
Then, the board told everyone, 'We have to enforce the rule banning pets, slowly.'
Ingrid Gruber: "And when they die, we cannot replace them, which none of us had a problem with."
Lynda Durand: "And told us we can keep them, but if they pass, we can't replace them, which was fine with everyone in the room."
Grandfathering in the current pets was a decision everyone could live with, so imagine the surprise when all the pet owners got a letter from the board.
Barbara Francisco: "All animals to be disposed of, like they were garbage."
Thats not Barbara's interperation of what the board demanded they do with their animals. Here it is in black and white: "The following is the guideline you must follow when disposing of the animal."
Ingrid Gruber: "My thought on that is, I think it's cruel, because how do you get rid of a pet that you have had for 14 years?"
Lynda Durand: "It was a very harsh word. It was cold, very cold."
The pet owners' response: Ninety residents signed a petition letting the board know, good luck trying to make them chase off their cats.
Lynda Durand: "I'm not leaving it, and I'm not leaving my cats."
So the board that voted to dispose of the pets also decided to punish residents who refused to dump their dogs and cats by fining them.
Ingrid Gruber: "And all of a sudden, we got word that we need to dispose of them within 60 days or we're going to get fined $10 a day."
Barbara Francisco: "And a lien will be put on your property."
Now, letters demanding the fines be paid are being sent out. Pet owners think it's all ridiculous.
Even some people who don't own pets here think it's wrong.
Susan Kiley, Supports Pet Owners: "Now, how to do you tell her she has to get rid of the cat? I'm sorry, that's pretty sad. That's almost saying, 'Get rid of your child.'"
Howard, the condo documents say you can't have pets, but the rule has never been enforced. Can the board suddenly change its mind and force owners to get rid of their animals?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "No, they can't, because of what the law calls 'estoppel.' In other words, since the assocation never enforced the rule, they cannot suddenly make the residents get rid of their pets. Now they can ban residents from getting pets, but the residents who already have them can keep them until they die."
When we spoke with the association board, the president told us, they are just trying to enforce the condo rules, and they are frustrated that previous boards did not enforce the rule banning pets. They have been sending out letters making sure every owner knows about the issue, but admit they are most likely not going to be able to force the current pets out or collect the fines, but they do plan to make sure no new pets come in.
Richard Maggiore, Lynda's Brother: "It was bothering her everyday."
Sadly, Richard's sister Lynda did not live to get the good news. She was fighting cancer when we talked to her and passed away in August.
Her brother knows the fear of having to get rid of her cats certainly didn't help in battling cancer.
Richard Maggiore: "Well, she had terminal cancer, and that was a battle of itself, and she certainly did not need all of this aggravation over her head that she would have to get rid of the cats."
Patrick Fraser: "Boy, that puts it all in perspective. And by the way, they did find homes for Lynda's cats. As for the board, if they still try to force the current residents to get rid of their animals or fine them, Howard says, let them. There is nothing they can do. In other words, ignore the board's acts."