Water Bottle Fight At Condo Pool, A Drop In Bucket To Larger Conflict
Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post
By Frank Cerabino
Published July 19, 2018
South Florida condominium disputes are rarely about one thing.
It might look like there’s a fight over some specific issue, but dig deeper, and a rich history of conflict awaits
That’s the case at Abbey Village in suburban Delray Beach, where for five years, resident Bruce Petricca, 60, has been fighting to allow his 86-year-old mother to have a plastic water bottle on the edge of the pool while she does her water therapy.
Sounds like a simple request to allow a disabled woman to have sips of water without requiring her to climb out of the pool to drink from a plastic bottle beyond arm’s reach on the deck.
But for years, the condo association has cited the Florida Administrative Code Chapter 64E, which requires a 4-foot-wide “unobstructed” area around the community swimming pool’s edge as a reason to deny the woman her water.
“THIS IS THE LAW AND THERE ARE NO ‘WAIVERS’ OR ‘EXCEPTIONS’ TO THE LAW!” a village newsletter screamed in all capital letters last year in explaining the pool water bottle rule.
The newsletter went on to say that it’s a “physical safety hazard” to have a water bottle near the pool, which may hamper firefighters or rescue personnel in the event of an emergency.
“Also, there is a danger to public health when water or any other food or beverage gets spilled in the pool,” the newsletter continued. “If this happens, the available chlorine in the pool will go directly to the spill to try to rid the pool of this intrusion, thereby not leaving enough chlorine available in the pool to do the job of keeping the pool clean and providing a health environment for safe swimming.”
It seems, at first glance, that this is a condo that is obsessed with the hazards of droplets of drinking water falling into a public swimming pool.
But it’s not about the water. Or the disabled woman who wants to drink it. It’s about her son, Bruce, a past board member who for the last 21 years has made a number of enemies among his neighbors.
“This has nothing to do with the water bottle,” says condo association president David Kaplan said. “This has do to with the frustrations of a man who was on the board twice and if you cross him, you’re on his bad list forever.”
Petricca owns a separate unit from his mother. He has long alleged financial mismanagement at his condo and has been both the instigator and the recipient of a long list of grievances.
He has been accused of scheduling board meetings on Jewish holidays, stalking dog owners by jumping from behind bushes to snap photos of them, and researching the out-of-state criminal history of a board member — who then sued him for defamation.
So his disabled mother and her water bottle are essentially collateral damage in a larger war.
Petricca, who has spent thousands of dollars fighting his association, says people like him need to be protected with state legislation that sanctions 55-and-over associations for bullying residents. To that end, he has been working with local state legislators on a proposed bill called “The Stand Up for Seniors Act.”
The bill would create a local ombudsman, who would review allegations of condo owners being bullied by their associations, and if necessary require bullying seniors to be fined or to receive anger management counseling.
As for the water bottle, Petricca sought guidance from the Palm Beach County Department of Health, which changed its rules two years ago to allow plastic water bottles on the wet deck area around condo swimming pools.
Even so, the condo maintained its ban on the poolside bottles, citing the conflicting language in the Florida Administrative Code. So Petricca filed a discrimination complaint against his condominium with the Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity on behalf of his mother.
And two months ago, the county agency found that there was “reasonable cause” to conclude that the association was not in compliance with the Fair Housing Act by prohibiting a disabled person with a doctor’s note from getting sips of water while doing water therapy.
But the pool rule was still in effect on Friday, according to the association’s TV channel, reminding residents that “food and beverage are prohibited within 4-feet of the pool water’s edge.”
Although, not according to the condominium’s attorney, Victoria Morton.
“The association is taking no enforcement action on it,” Morton said. “They are not preventing the water bottle near the pool.”
That’s news to Petricca.