CAT WARS

RANDALL PENTIUK

It was the cutest little kitten Mrs. Smith had ever seen.  She scooped it up and took it home, back to her Coop unit.  What Mrs. Smith didn’t know is that her Coop had a no pet policy.  Mrs. Smith didn’t bother to read it and no one said anything about her new little kitten.  Pretty soon, Mrs. Smith’s kitten grew up to be a cat and Mrs. Smith would let it outside on occasion.  It also had a nasty habit of clawing the curtains and checking out the garbage.  Mrs. Smith worked a lot and was not aware of where her cat was at all times.  Pretty soon, neighbors began to complain.  Eventually, the fact that Mrs. Smith had a cat made its way to the Board of Directors.  The Board of Directors read on the internet that they could ban all pets in the Coop, and decided to enforce their policy.  They gave Mrs. Smith two weeks to dispose of her cat or else she would be evicted from the premises.

Did the Board do the right thing?  Was the Board’s decision legal?  The Board didn’t find out the law.  It just took action because Mrs. Smith had deceived them about the cat and that was good enough for the Board.

Mrs. Smith wanted to keep her cat.  So Mrs. Smith did what she thought was best.  She hired a lawyer.  It was a friend of hers that was recommended.  He didn’t know too much about Coop law, but he felt Mrs. Smith should be able to keep her cat, so he sent a letter to the Board saying this violated Mrs. Smith’s right.  He found some law on the internet about service animals and so he claimed that Mrs. Smith’s cat was a service animal and thus couldn’t be prohibited.

What would you advise the Board?  Is Mrs. Smith’s cat a service animal or not?  The Board didn’t know.  They thought it was a pet and that was the end of it.  They moved to evict Mrs. Smith.

About this time, the management company got involved.  The management company told the Board that Mrs. Smith could have a cat, but that the Board should regulate the size and breed of the cat.  The Board thought this was good advice and adopted a pet size and breed policy.  Unfortunately for Mrs. Smith, her cat did not fit within the policy and the Board told her she had to get rid of the cat.  Mrs. Smith then went back to her lawyer who wrote another letter to the Board.  Weeks passed.  The letter said that Mrs. Smith’s cat was now a companion animal and that she could keep it because it was a companion animal. 

The Board never heard of such a thing, nor did the management company think it was a companion animal.  It was clearly an effort by Mrs. Smith to make up stories to keep her cat.  The Board evicted Mrs. Smith.  Two months later, Mrs. Smith’s lawyer wrote a third letter saying that they would be filing a complaint with HUD for violating Mrs. Smith’s civil rights.

Was Mrs. Smith’s cat legally defined as a service animal?  Did Mrs. Smith meet the qualifications for a companion animal?  Who’s going to win?  Mrs. Smith or the Board? 

Perhaps you are having issues with pets.  Whether they be cats or dogs or some other type of animal.  You should be award of how the law classifies animals.  Not all cats are created equal.  Not all dogs are created equal.  Some animals are just pets and can be regulated or prohibited by Coops.  You could have the same animal and it may not qualify as a pet, but it may qualify as a service animal.  Or, you can take that same animal and it may not qualify as a service animal or a pet, but it may qualify as an emotional support/companion animal.  If it qualifies as either a service animal or a companion animal, Mrs. Smith might have been able to keep her pet and avoid being evicted or the Coop might have avoided being sued. 

We don’t recommend Boards rely on the intent to figure it out.  These are questions for legal counsel.  If you have questions about pets and whether the animals your members possess are simply pets or are service animals or are companion animals, we recommend you get good legal advice up front.  Don’t wait.  The time and hassle and ill-will generated by fights over animals can be avoided by good legal advice up front.  Unless you know the difference, you may end of making a mistake.