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Condo Ban on Pets Is Upheld

California Supreme Court rules for Palm Springs homeowners association over a dog lover who bought unit before the exclusion was put in writing.

June 15, 2004|Joy Buchanan | Times Staff Writer

The California Supreme Court on Monday upheld a Palm Springs condominium ban on pets over the objection of a dog lover who bought in before the exclusion was put in writing.

The Villa De Las Palmas Homeowners Assn. had repeatedly warned Paula Terifaj that she was violating the rules, according to the opinion. The court upheld the association's power to exclude pets and ordered Terifaj to pay $15,000 to cover the association's legal fees.

Terifaj, a Brea veterinarian, argued on behalf of the 6.7 million California households with pets that owning them benefited human health and well-being.

In the unanimous opinion written by Justice Carlos Moreno, the court ruled that "all homeowners are subject to use restrictions contained in amended [association rules] irrespective of when the amendment was passed."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday June 16, 2004 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 41 words Type of Material: Correction
Pets ban -- An article in the California section Tuesday about the state Supreme Court upholding a Palm Springs condominium ban on pets referred to the 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside. The correct name is the Court of Appeal.

The homeowners association argued that there had been a long-standing, though unrecorded, rule banning pets since 1962, and that Terifaj was aware of it.

Terifaj bought a condo in 1995 and moved in with her dog, Lucy. After Lucy died in 1998, Terifaj brought another dog onto the property.

The association had repeatedly told Terifaj to remove each dog from the premises. In 2000, the association approved a recorded rule banning "animals of any kind, including, without limitation, dogs, cats, birds, livestock, reptiles or poultry."

State law that took effect in 2001 gives residents in "common interest developments" the right to keep a single pet. Those developments include condominiums, planned housing developments and cooperatives.

The court ruled Monday that the benefits of pet ownership were irrelevant. Instead, the issue was whether "subsequently enacted and recorded use restrictions may be enforced against a current homeowner."

In upholding the 4th District Court of Appeals in Riverside, the high court also concluded that Terifaj must pay the homeowners association $15,000 in attorney fees.

"It's an excellent result for our client," said Peter Racobs, a lawyer for the association. "It gives homeowner communities the flexibility to change their [rules] to adapt to changes in the community."

"I'm delighted," said Lois Serwa, past chairwoman of the association. "I'm sure everyone will be pleased that this is finally over."

Serwa had presided over the association when it filed suit against Terifaj in 1999. Serwa, who lives in Canada but owns a condo in the Palms Springs complex, said that Terifaj had tried to persuade the association to change the rule first in 1996, but that the effort was voted down by the 24-member group. As she remembered it, Serwa said, everyone except Terifaj voted to keep the no-pets rule.

Before the case went to the state Supreme Court, Terifaj and her lawyer, Russell P. Nowell of Brea, argued that the association's rule was too broad and violated laws allowing access to guide dogs and animals that assist disabled persons.

The court said there was no indication the association would prohibit guide dogs or other animal aides on the property.

Serwa said the association was sensitive to the needs of the disabled. "We were not infringing on the rights of those who were physically or visibly challenged," she said. "Obviously, if you're blind, you can take your dog anywhere."

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