Humans aren’t the only Key West residents struggling to find long-term housing these days.
Bailey, Tango and Lola, the birds that have lived in the outdoor courtyard at New York Pasta Garden for up to 17 years, have been exiled by the condominium association that governs Duval Square.
The compound that stretches from Duval to Simonton streets houses first-floor businesses and second-floor residences, the majority of which are vacation rentals, said Chef Lea Fettis, who bought New York Pasta Garden in August 2019 with business partner Shukhrat Rakhimov. The men inherited the birds from the former owner, who died.
“Bailey, the red bird, is a greenwing macaw who’s lived here for 17 years,” Fettis said. “Tango, the red and blue macaw, has been here for eight years and Lola, the African gray, has been here more than four years. I have literally hundreds of photos from visitors with Lola. We’ve tried to work with the condominium association with this, but everything they do is secretive. They won’t even return my emails, but are constantly taking photos of all the businesses around here.”
Fettis received a letter on July 9 from the law firm that represents the condo board, informing him the birds are a violation of the restaurant’s lease, “even though we took over the restaurant ‘as-is,’” Fettis said. “I’ve never heard a single complaint from people, and we started taking the birds home at night rather than leaving them in the courtyard in case they’re too loud at night. But that wasn’t good enough. I’ve also offered to pay additional rent for use of the common area. But the birds are currently in exile.”
Fettis has met with Key West attorney Michael Halpern, and plans to answer the condo board’s letter with a lawsuit. “These condo boards, all over town and all over the country, are holding people ransom with their bully tactics and overreach,” Fettis said.
“Life is hard enough during this pandemic and the state of affairs in the world without having to worry about losing your business or your home for such frivolous reasons,” Fettis told the Keys Weekly. “Since the lockdown began, this condo association has threatened to revoke our lease on three separate occasions for doing things that have been standard in the restaurant for 30 years, such as not breaking down Sysco boxes in a timely fashion.
“I understand the concern, but threatening multiple people’s livelihoods for such things in the midst of this pandemic is unconscionable. Especially when you haven’t missed a rent payment.”
The July 9 letter from the board’s attorneys states that Fettis’ failure to remove the birds constitutes “a violation of your lease, which prohibits you from doing anything which constitutes a violation of the laws and requirements of any public authority and/or annoys or inconveniences other persons occupying Duval Square….”
The birds remain in exile until the matter is settled by the courts.