Summary of Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Assoc., Inc., Supreme Ct. of CA (1994)
Parties: PL resident and cat owner; DF condominium homeowners’ association
Cause of action/remedy sought: The following is an equitable action of an injunction to prevent the condo association from enforcement of the restriction that animals could not be kept in the condo.
Procedural History: The Association demurred to PL’s complaint and trial court sustained the motion to dismiss and Nahrstedt appealed. Court of Appeals found that the homeowners association could enforce the restriction only if there was proof that the cats would interfere with the rights of other property owners to the peaceful and quiet enjoyment of their property. Appellate court found for PL.
Superior court reversed decision of the Appellate court.
Facts: The Lakeside village project is subject to covenants and conditions and restrictions which were included in the developers declaration at the inception of the project. Ownership of a unit includes membership in the projects homeowners association, which provides that no pets can be kept in the unit.
PL bought a condo and moved in with her 3 cats. When the association found out about it, it asked her to removed the cats and assessed fines against her for each month that the cats were there. She sued the association’s officers and 2 of its employees on the grounds that the restriction was unreasonable since her cats remained indoors and that she did not know of the restriction when she bought her condo.
Important note: pet restriction is not against all animals, just dogs and/or cats.
Issue(s): Under CA property law, is the pet restriction contained in the deed of the condo complex enforceable against the challenge of the homeowner when a condo owner tries to prevent enforcement of a use restriction that the project’s developer has included in the recorded declaration of CC&R’s?
Holding: Yes. Since the restriction was not unreasonable, it is enforceable.
Court’s Rationale/Reasoning: Legislature requires that covenants and restrictions be presumed as valid unless unreasonable. The court found that the restriction was not unreasonable in that it was not arbitrary, the burden of the covenant did not outweigh the benefits and the covenant did not violate public policy.
Giving deference to the restrictions protects the general expectations of the condo owners that the restrictions in place at the time they purchase their units will be enforceable. It also protects buyers who have paid a premium for condo unites in reliance on a particular restrictive scheme.
Equity will not enforce any covenant that violates public policy (Shelley v. Kramer) or those which are arbitrary (bearing no rational relationship to the protection, preservation of purpose of the affected land.). Here, this is not the case because our social fabric is best preserved if courts uphold and enforce solemn instruments that embody the expectations of parties than treat them as worthless paper.
The judicial system prefers to enforce these covenants so as to lessen the number of law suits.
Rule: CA Legislature in Civil Code section 1354, has required that courts enforce the covenants, conditions, and restrictions contained in the recorded declaration of a common interest development “unless unreasonable.”
(so the restriction does not depend on the behavior of the property owner, but the restriction must be uniformly enforced in the condo development to which it was intended to apply unless PL owner can show that the burdens the rule imposes on affected properties so substantially outweighs the benefits of the restriction that it should not be enforced against any owner)
Did court avoid issues?: No.
Dicta: This is a case of first impression (FL used this kind of a statute back in 1981 (use restrictions set forth by condo owners put to reasonableness test so reasonably related to the health, happiness and peace of mind of owners collectively).
Dissents: Justice Arabian dissented on the grounds that he though the covenant was arbitrary and unreasonable and that the majority just enforced it for efficiency purposes. He’s a cat lover!