Fla. legal battle could create $40,000 cat

May 02, 1994|By Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel

HALLANDALE, Fla. -- Phyllis Hammond paid $100 for Sam the cat.

By the time the former official of Maryland Public Television finishes fighting to keep him, Sam could cost more than $40,000.

Ms. Hammond, 65, is in the middle of a battle to keep the cat in her one-bedroom, oceanfront apartment. She bought Sam during a three-week period last year when pets were permitted. On Jan. 12, 1993, the co-op board rescinded its ban on pets; on Jan. 30, it reinstated the ban.

The retiree, who lives on a pension and Social Security, has spent $8,063 to keep her feline, while the seven-member board that runs her co-op association has spent $11,000 to force Ms. Hammond to get rid of the cat, a 1 1/2 -year-old, 10-pound, silver-ticked Oriental shorthair.

But the $19,063 spent so far may be peanuts compared with what the dispute could cost.

An arbitrator called in by the board to hear the dispute ruled in Ms. Hammond's favor, so the board has filed an appeal to the Broward Circuit Court. A trial could double the costs to more than $40,000, lawyers said.

Ms. Hammond, who worked for MPT for 22 years and retired as vice president for administration, said the cat isn't worth it.

"I've spent $8,000 so far," she said. "Another $8,000 for a trial would be $16,000. That's $16,000 for a cat. No cat is worth $16,000 unless you have the money. I don't."

But fight she must. The board, by filing the lawsuit against her, isn't giving her a choice. She hopes that she wins and that the judge makes the board pay some of her costs, she said.

Ms. Hammond, who has had cats most of her life, said she tried to end the case several times. At one point, when she had to borrow money to pay her lawyer, she offered to get rid of Sam, sell her apartment and end the dispute if each side would pay its own attorney's fees. But the board insisted she pay its fees in addition to her own. She did not have the money and was forced to continue, she said.

For the board, the issue isn't the cat, it's the principle.

"This isn't a thing where the board of directors has ganged up on Mrs. Hammond," association President Michael Moss said. "We polled the ownership . . . and they voted 27 to 7 to [file] the lawsuit."

Mark B. Schorr, the Fort Lauderdale attorney who represented the board at the arbitration hearing, said, "The time and energy and expense are over more than just a cat. Boards of directors in condos and cooperatives have to enforce the rules that govern their buildings. If they don't, you have anarchy."

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