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Pet Lovers Growling in Seal Beach

One of 15 homeowner groups at Leisure World is considering a ban on having animals. If adopted, the issue will probably land in court.

September 30, 2004|Stanley Allison | Times Staff Writer

The notice that was posted in the Leisure World laundry room caused 75-year-old Pauline Hamric to shudder.

Her homeowners association, it appeared, was taking steps to ban pets in her Seal Beach neighborhood -- unsettling news for Hamric, who had recently bought a Chihuahua puppy for companionship.

The notice contained a draft of a policy declaring that "no shareholder will be allowed to bring a pet into Mutual Twelve from this day forth." It invited residents to submit comments.

The fact that current pet owners would be allowed to keep them was of little comfort to Hamric and other seniors at the retirement community.

"I think it's an injustice, regardless of the fact that I would be safe with my puppy," Hamric said. "What about other people? What about people who have pets and might want to replace them someday?"

The pet ban is proposed only for Mutual Twelve, one of 15 homeowners associations in Seal Beach Leisure World. It represents 452 homes.

If the proposal is adopted, it will probably end up in court, legal experts said, because a 2001 state law allows members of homeowners associations to have at least one pet.

Association boards of directors "have the right to make a lot of laws and regulations [concerning pets], but they don't have the right to exclude them," said Yolo County Supervisor Helen Thomson, who wrote the bill when she was in the California Assembly.

"It seems ludicrous, given the nature of who lives in condos -- many older senior citizens with health problems, with depression -- and yet they're told they can't have a dog or a cat when the health benefit of having a pet with older people is well established," she said.

The notice was all the more upsetting because pet ownership rules had recently been relaxed at Leisure World.

The president of Mutual Twelve said he could not discuss the pet ban issue for 30 days, the time necessary for public notice on the proposal and to collect owner comments.

According to state law, if 5% of the owners take issue with the proposed change, they can order a board meeting to discuss it.

According to attorney Kieran Purcell, whose San Diego firm represents homeowners associations, a change in the rules or restrictions at a community typically has to be approved by a majority of the residents.

He, too, said the exercise could prove futile, because state law allows pet bans only if the ban existed within an association before the law's Jan. 1, 2001, effective date.

Administrators and the corporate counsel for the Golden Rain Foundation, the community's management company, did not return calls seeking comment.

This is the latest in a string of disputes between homeowners and the managers and governing bodies at the Seal Beach retirement community.

Most recently, a group of residents successfully sued Golden Rain for access to its financial records.

One of Mutual Twelve's homeowners, Rita Simpson, said she "freaked out" after hearing about the proposed ban, because of pet owners' efforts -- including picketing -- to relax pet rules. "We worked so hard to get Leisure World to agree that we are allowed to have a pet," she said.

Two years ago, pet lovers tangled with Golden Rain when the foundation prohibited residents from walking their animals on common grounds.

Owners were required to drive their pets off the property to walk them.

Several owners filed claims against the administration over the restrictions, and Leisure World was forced by federal and state fair housing agencies to ease pet restrictions, said Chuck Gilliard, president of the Pet Lovers Club and the leader of the fight against the rules.

This latest challenge to the pet owners has brought residents to tears. Many say they rely on the animals for comfort and therapy. "If losing my husband and three of my children wouldn't be enough to qualify me to have a little animal for comfort, I don't know what would," Hamric said. "I'm just really upset about this."

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