by William W. Abbott and Robert T. Yamachika

California landowners frequently live under two sets of land use regulations: one public and one private. Private land use restrictions may be as simple as reciprocal easements, or increasingly, multi-page covenants, conditions and restrictions (“CC&Rs”). Common interest subdivisions, with extensive private land use restrictions are becoming more commonplace in the development landscape. With that growth comes the natural increase in legal issues triggered by private land use control disputes.

In the recent decision of Villa de Las Palmas Homeowners Association v. Paula Terifaj (2004) 33 Cal.4th 73, the California Supreme Court wrestled with the issue of whether or not a homeowners’ association could amend its CC&Rs for the purpose of adding a use restriction (no pets), and then applying the restriction to an existing resident. The Court upheld this action, finding that such a limitation was reasonable and served a legitimate purpose.

Although the legislature has limited the ability to adopt “no pet” restrictions (Civil Code section 1360.5, applicable to CC&Rs recorded or amended after January 1, 2001, thus not applying to Villa Las Palmas), this case is important on a broader level in that it affirms the fundamental principle that associations, through their governing bodies or by the membership, possess the authority to add new restrictions on uses and to apply those to existing owners and residents. This authority is reflected in Civil Code section 1354, which allows for the enforcement of restrictions (including amended restrictions) as equitable servitudes, unless unreasonable. The Court’s result, and the underlying statute make sense. After all, before purchasing property, a prospective owner receives a title report disclosing the existence of the private land use controls. More often then not, these restrictions expressly recognize the potential for later amendment, without limitation on the subject matter. When that later amendment takes place, the owner can hardly argue surprise.

William W. Abbott is a partner and Robert T. Yamachika is an associate with Abbott & Kindermann, LLP in Sacramento. For questions relating to this article or any other California land use, environmental and planning issues contact Abbott & Kindermann at (916) 456-9595.

The information presented in this article should not be construed to be formal legal advice by Abbott & Kindermann, LLP, nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship. Because of the changing nature of this area of the law and the importance of individual facts, readers are encouraged to seek independent counsel for advice regarding their individual legal issues.