TAMPA — Disputes between condominium associations and the people who live there are nothing new. But here’s a notable one for a Hillsborough County judge to decide:
Should an elderly resident be ordered to stop feeding stray cats — an act the condo association has deemed both a nuisance and an annoyance to her neighbors?
And should the woman, who is 78 and retired from secretarial work, have to pay their attorneys fees and costs, too?
A lawsuit was filed this month against Joan P. Hussey, a 22-year resident of the Tampa Racquet Club Condominium, a gated, clay-colored complex of more than 200 units just west of Dale Mabry Highway.
The association says Hussey has been breaking the rules by attracting and feeding “stray cats/animals” in and around the common areas of the complex. The suit does not specify the number of cats or what other kinds of animals are alleged to have been fed.
“The continued presence of the stray cats may also induce unwanted health issues to those surrounding neighbors and/or tenants and could cause unwarranted damage to the Association’s common elements,” the lawsuit says.
But Hussey — in legal documents, the defendant — says she only feeds one, a black-and-white cat she had fixed years ago and calls Cleo. She said she periodically sets out a bowl of dry kibble for Cleo under her car in its covered parking space, picks up the bowl afterward and does not feed other strays.
“I’m terribly surprised‚” said Hussey. “I’ve had cats all my life, and I do it respectfully.”
The condo association begs to differ, contending she has continued to feed strays even after numerous requests for her to stop. The lawsuit wasn’t their first legal action against her.
Last year, the condo association took its case to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for arbitration, a process required before this kind of condo dispute can go to court.
But Hussey never responded to the petition for arbitration. She later said she didn’t understand all of the “attorney’s jargon” in papers she received. By default, an order was issued requiring her to stop feeding cats on the property.
Now the association wants a judge to issue an injunction telling her to stop, and is also requesting reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs. No court date has been scheduled for the case, assigned to Circuit Judge Emily Peacock.
The Tampa Bay Times’ inquiries to the Tampa Racquet Club Condominium were referred to its attorney, Stanford Rowe. Rowe issued a statement saying the association’s position is that Hussey must comply with the arbitrator’s order.
“I go to bed at night, and I can’t sleep, thinking about this thing,” Hussey said.