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For nine years, Paula Terifaj has fought to keep dogs in her Palm Springs condominium, despite bylaws prohibiting pets. But on Monday the state Supreme Court said the veterinarian from Brea, Calif., has been barking up the wrong tree. In a unanimous ruling, the court said Terifaj must comply with homeowner association rules, even though they were put into writing five years after she bought her unit. “Subsequently promulgated and recorded use restrictions are entitled to the same judicial deference accorded covenants and restrictions in original declarations,” Justice Carlos Moreno wrote. “That is, they are presumptively valid, and the burden of proving otherwise rests upon the challenging homeowner.” The court also upheld a $15,000 attorney fee award for the Villa de Las Palmas Homeowners Association, which had sued Terifaj in an effort to enforce its rules. Terifaj bought into the 24-unit complex in 1995, even though she knew there was an unwritten rule prohibiting pets. Her first dog, Lucy, died in 1998, but Terifaj acquired a female boxer, which she continued to bring to the property on visits. After repeated warnings, association officials sued Terifaj, and the case ended up in arbitration. In the meantime, the association amended its bylaws to put the no-pet policy in writing, but Terifaj argued that the new rule could not affect a current resident. The high court disagreed. The court also rejected Terifaj’s argument that she was protected by a 2000 amendment to state law that said homeowners in common interest developments, such as condominiums, cannot be prohibited from owning “at least one pet.” Justice Moreno noted that change in the law applied only to bylaw changes effective on or after Jan. 1, 2001. He also said the legislation didn’t undermine court precedents that pet restrictions may be reasonable. “The Legislature did not declare that prohibiting pets is unreasonable,” he ruled, “but merely demonstrated a legislative preference for allowing homeowners in common interest developments to keep at least one pet.” Terifaj had been backed by the Hayward-based California Council of the Blind, which in an amicus curiae brief argued that a pet restriction violated homeowners’ civil rights by making it impossible for them to entertain friends who need guide dogs. In a footnote, Justice Moreno called that argument “hypothetical.” There was no indication, he wrote, that homeowners associations would not make an exception for seeing-eye dogs. Brea solo practitioner Russell Nowell represented Terifaj, while the association’s lawyer was Margaret Wangler, a partner in Palm Desert’s Fiore, Racobs & Powers.

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