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Monday, June 19, 2006

Fighting the Good Fight for Pets in Condos

Maida, from Citizens for Pets in Condos, has this request:

"We could use some representation at the Tampa condo/HOA town hall on Monday, June 26, 7 PM...We passed the 2,000 mark on our online petition to allow pets in privately-owned homes. The actual count, as I write, is 2,081 signatures. We also have several hundred on-paper signatures."

This group is trying to change the pervasive no-pet rules in condominiums. I agree that the rules are unfair and unnecessary. It's not even a question that pets are good for people, especially older people who may be living far from their families and depend on their pets for love and companionship.

The Herald recently ran a story about this group and today ran a couple of letters to the editor about the story.

To find out more about the advocacy group, click here.

I'm reprinting the story here (because it's in Herald archives, which charges a fee).

Published: Sunday, June 11, 2006
PET PEEVES

BY DONNA GEHRKE-WHITE, dgehrke@MiamiHerald.com

In her Aventura high-rise, Joyce Starr is celebrating. She can keep her beloved cat, Little Guy, after a bruising legal fight that cost her Bonavida Condominium Association $19,200 before the board settled in February.

``I feel the bricks were taken off my heart,'' Starr says.

Four flights below her, board member Steven Weisberg remains upset that other board members capitulated and ``grandfathered'' Starr's cat and a few other pets to get rid of a costly case. He says he had sold his previous home to get away from a barking dog,

``It's not fair to people who bought into a community thinking it does not allow pets,'' Weisberg says. ``It's a hot issue.''

Indeed, ``pet wars'' are raging throughout South Floridia's condo canyons. To have a pet - or not - is pitting neighbor vs. neighbor, with the legal battles sometimes costing tens of thousands of dollars.

``We get a lot of vehement complaints - from both sides,'' says Bill Raphan, assistant state condo ombudsman. ``This can be heated.''

Most older condo communities restrict or outlaw pets. New condominiums, however, tend to be more pet-friendly - as a sales tool.

Still, even some newer condominiums restrict pets through weight limits or other rules.

But some residents don't believe rules are enough. They believe pets don't belong in condos where neighbors are so close together.

Dogs bark or make messes. Birds screech. Many people fear animals. Others are allergic to cats.

However, some residents have been faced with choosing between their home and their pet.

That's what Maida Genser faced after she moved from Michigan to a Tamarac condo.

She says a real estate agent had assured her that the Broward complex accepted cats. The condo documents she was given did not mention a no-pets rule, she said. But her new board soon issued her an ultimatum: give up her lakeside condo or her two beloved tabbies. The condo documents had been amended to ban pets years after the complex was built.

Two years and a bruising battle later, Spike and Priya still roam her ground-floor condo after the board gave Genser, 63, a special exemption because of her health problems.

``Petting an animal,'' Genser declares, ``can be better than taking a pill.''

That galvanized her to start a statewide campaign to help other condo pet owners. So far, more than 1,850 people have signed an online petition on Genser's www.petsincondos.org.

State Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami, says he may propose a bill next year that would allow condo owners to convert to pet-friendly rules with a bare majority instead of the usual two-thirds vote required to change condo documents.

``It looks like a pretty good idea,'' he says. ``I'm a pet lover, too.''

Prospective owners need to carefully read their condo documents because many who fight no-pet rules haven't been as lucky as Genser, cautions Raphan at the ombudsman's office.

Judges and arbitrators have evicted dogs and cats, especially if the original condo documents ban pets, he says.

In Delray Beach, Bernadette Casale, 86, is now shuttling between a friend's house and her two-bedroom condo to keep her 21/2-pound Chihuahua. Last October, an arbitrator of the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation ruled against her keeping 7-year-old Cha Cha in the no-pets Bridgeview Association. The arbitrator rejected a letter from Casale's doctor stating the dog helped with her medical maladies. Casale says she didn't have the money to appeal to circuit court.

``It's rough,'' Casale says. ``I come home every once in a while'' to check the mail at her condo and do other errands. She stays at her friend's house at night so she can be with Cha Cha. She is planning to sell her condo and move.

Calls to the Bridgeview Association were not returned.

One solution is for condos to require owner training to ensure well-behaved pets, recommends Brian Kilcommons, New York's director of training and animal control, who has written books on dog behavior.

``We need to focus on the other end of the leash - the owners.'' They should also sign a pledge to be good neighbors, he says.

Many condo complexes already have security cameras and boards could use them to catch owners who don't pick up after their dogs, he adds.

Developers are finding that having pets - and rules - sell condos.

``The vast majority of new condos are open to pets,'' says Israel Kreps, whose public relations firms represents several developers. ``People want to be able to have a pet.''

Some developers have even built dog parks, complete with dispensers of pickup bags, to entice buyers. Others are allowing dogs larger than 20 or 25 pounds.

Downtown's Metropolitan Miami has found that opening the doors to bigger dogs draws buyers.

``There are so many people who have larger dogs but it's difficult to find a place that takes them. People are so much more skeptical about allowing them in,'' says Sara Alvarez, whose family bought a unit at the Met. They have two dogs, including a 55-pound golden retriever.

Big dogs can be quieter than the teacups, says Mary Burch, the Tallahassee-based director of the AKC Canine Good Citizen program.

``A yapping Chihuahua can be more of a pain than a mastiff who sleeps on the couch all day,'' she says.

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