Music and Cats

Okay, this is a post about a case, but it's totally not boring. I promise!

For Property tomorrow we're reading Nahrstedt v. Lakeside Village Condominium Association. The case arose in Los Angeles. A woman bought a condominium in a complex and moved in with her three cats. Unfortunately, there was a term in the purchase agreement that specified that "No animals (which shall mean dogs and cats), livestock, reptiles or poultry shall be kept in any unit." The Plaintiff, Ms. Nahrstedt, apparently didn't know about this. Her cats lived indoors and presented no problem until the condo association learned about them. They told her to get rid of the cats. When she didn't, they fined her and threatened to continue fining her each month until the cats were gone.

So she sued. She argued that the cats were no bother to anyone, that they in no way harmed the value of the condominium complex, and that they did not impare the ability of any of her fellow condo dwellers to enjoy their own condos. The terms of the lease were unreasonable as enforced against her, and so the court ought to throw them out.

Not only did Nahrstedt sue her condo to keep her cats, she actually took the case all the way to the California Supreme Court. Think about this: Nahrstedt sought only injunctive relief. There's no money on the table. She went all the way to the California Supreme Court to get them to issue an order to the condo board telling them to let her keep her cats. I'm now fascinated by this woman. Was she a pro se litigant (self-represented)? Was her brother handling the case? Did she actually spend the money to file suit and appeal all the way to the Supreme Court over her kitties?

What's doubly interesting is the decision itself. The majority rules against her. The term was there in the contract, and it's not the condo board's fault she didn't read it carefully. She bound herself to it and, since many people have problems with allergies or whatnot, it's not unreasonable to have a blanket pet ban.

But the dissenters get absolutely pissed over this ruling. Seriously, I haven't seen this level of vitriol outside of a Scalia dissent. A few choice quotes:

"Beyond dispute, human beings have long enjoyed an abiding and cherished association with their household animals. Given the substantial benefits derived from pet ownership, the undue burden on the use of property imposed on condominium owners who can maintain pets within the confines of their units without creating a nuisance or disturbing the quiet enjoyment of others substantially outweighs whatever meager utility the restriction may serve in the abstract. It certainly does not promote "health, happiness [or] peace of mind" commensurate with its tariff on the quality of life for those who value the companionship of animals. Worse, it contributes to the fraying of our social fabric."
"To the extent such animals are not seen, heard, or smelled any more than if they were not kept in the first place, there is no corresponding or concomitant benefit. Pets that remain within the four corners of their owners' condominium space can have no deleterious or offensive effect on the project's common areas or any neighboring unit. Certainly, if other owners and residents are totally unaware of their presence, prohibiting pets does not in any respect foster the "health, happiness [or] peace of mind" of anyone except the homeowners association's board of directors, who are thereby able to promote a form of sophisticated bigotry. In light of the substantial and disproportionate burden imposed for those who must forego virtually any and all association with pets, this lack of benefit renders a categorical ban unreasonable under Civil Code section 1354."
"Nonetheless, the majority accept uncritically the proffered justification of preserving "health and happiness" and essentially consider only one criterion to determine enforceability: was the restriction recorded in the original declaration? If so, it is "presumptively valid," unless in violation of public policy. Given the application of the law to the facts alleged and by an inversion of relative interests, it is difficult to hypothesize any CC & R's that would not pass muster. Such sanctity has not been afforded any writing save the commandments delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, and they were set in stone, not upon worthless paper."
"Owning a home of one's own has always epitomized the American dream. More than simply embodying the notion of having "one's castle," it represents the sense of freedom and self- determination emblematic of our national character ... Nevertheless, with no demonstrated or discernible benefit, the majority arbitrarily sacrifice the dream to the tyranny of the 'commonality.' "
"The majority's failure to consider the real burden imposed by the pet restriction unfortunately belittles and trivializes the interest at stake here. Pet ownership substantially enhances the quality of life for those who desire it. When others are not only undisturbed by, but completely unaware of, the presence of pets being enjoyed by their neighbors, the balance of benefit and burden is rendered disproportionate and unreasonable, rebutting any presumption of validity. Their view, shorn of grace and guiding philosophy, is devoid of the humanity that must temper the interpretation and application of all laws, for in a civilized society that is the source of their authority. As judicial architects of the rules of life, we better serve when we construct halls of harmony rather than walls of wrath."

I'm somewhat awestruck by the dissent. That's the most vigor I've seen in any judicial decision all year, including landmark cases desegregating schools, granting the right to abortion, and striking down sodomy laws. But take away a woman's kitty-cats, and then you REALLY get the Justice's dander up (at least, Justice Arabian of the Californa Supreme Court).

For what it's worth, while Nehrstadt lost her case, five years later the California legislature passed a bill explicitly overturning this decision. It made it so that terms of condo purchase agreements that create restrictive covenants preventing the ownership of pets are unenforceable. In the face of this explicit repudiation, the California Supreme Court could reply only with silence. It could, perhaps, be said that a cat had gotten its tongue.

February 2012
Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
      1 2 3 4
5 6 7 8 9 10 11
12 13 14 15 16 17 18
19 20 21 22 23 24 25
26 27 28 29      

Contact Zach


Webcomics of Which I am a Fan

Sites I Read Daily: Politics

Sites I Read Daily: Video Gaming

Sites I Read Daily: General Miscellany

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Zach published on March 21, 2006 10:56 PM.

Why Do I Watch This Show Again?: Gilmore Girls was the previous entry in this blog.

Four Posts! One Day! No Real Content! is the next entry in this blog.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

Powered by Movable Type 5.04