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CONDO Q & A

Muzzled Dog Owner Questions No-Pet Policy

November 06, 1994|JAN HICKENBOTTOM | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

QUESTION: A new resident who owns a dog has moved into our 24-unit condominium complex. When we board members spoke with her to inform her of our condominium's pet restrictions, we met with strong opposition.

Our declaration of covenants, conditions and restriction (CC&Rs) clearly state that cats and dogs are not allowed in our building. Through the years, we have enforced the restriction diligently.

The new owner says that her real estate agent told her that a new law had been passed that makes enforcement of pet restrictions illegal. The real estate agent is not able to give us any specific information about a change in the law and, therefore, we do not believe her argument.

Are pet restrictions enforceable? If so, what is our association's next step? What is the buyer's next step if she wants to file a complaint against the real estate agent?

ANSWER: Yes, your pet restrictions are enforceable unless the animal is a seeing-eye dog or is used for some other type of assistance for a disabled person.

It is unfortunate that the real estate agent provided incorrect information to the buyer. The buyer may be upset with the condominium association's board members; however, her real adversary is the agent who gave her the incorrect information.

The agent may be confused because of the well-publicized lawsuit, Nahrstedt vs. Lakeside Village Condominium Assn. The case has now been ruled upon in the California Supreme Court. If the agent was relying upon the appellate court decision in this case, she needs to be aware of the final decision on Sept. 2, 1994.

The owner of three cats, Ms. Nahrstedt, moved into a condominium unit at Lakeside Village in Culver City. When the association's board of directors attempted to enforce the CC&Rs' prohibition of cats, Nahrstedt filed a lawsuit. She felt that she should be allowed to keep her cats since they stayed inside her condo unit and did not create any noise or other nuisance. At the Superior Court level, the case was dismissed. The court felt that the association's pet restriction was enforceable and refused to hear the case.

Then, Nahrstedt filed an appeal. The Court of Appeal determined that each challenge to the association's CC&Rs should be analyzed on a case-by-case basis by looking at the impact of the governing document's provisions on the individual owner. The appellate court ruled that Nahrstedt could keep her cats.

However, the appellate court's decision contained an ominous threat to the enforcement of many of the provisions in every association's documents throughout the state. Lakeside Village appealed the case to the Supreme Court, and the outcome was anxiously awaited.

During the long wait, many of us who manage and work with community associations were concerned about the number of lawsuits that might result from owners questioning the legality of any provision in the governing documents that the owners found objectionable. There were many discussions at homeowner association meetings all around the state regarding the apparent failure of the court to recognize the rights of the other owners who had, in some cases, given up their pets in order to comply with the association's restriction. Didn't these owners have the right to demand that other owners abide by the same restrictions?

Pet problems are often the topic of discussion at association board meetings. A pet that is unconditionally moved by its owner is sometimes a serious aggravation for the rest of the association's residents. Pets often create undesirable noise, odors and clean-up problems. If the owner is negligent, the result can be unsanitary conditions in and around the property.

On the other side of any debate about pet restrictions are those who are firmly convinced that pets are therapeutic and they are appalled that anyone would try to restrict them. The heated debates will probably continue in spite of the final court decision.

Those of us who recommend enforcement of pet restrictions are not necessarily pet haters. We are simply aware of the importance of protecting the integrity of the association's legal documents. If an association is not going to enforce pet restrictions, then the restriction should be removed by formally amending the CC&Rs by a vote of the entire membership.

On Sept. 2 the Supreme Court handed down its ruling. The court upheld the association's pet restrictions. Nahrstedt was told that her cats were not entitled to reside at Lakeside Village. This is an important, precedent-setting decision. In my opinion, it was a great victory for enforcement of the legal documents.

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