Like any promise given in exchange for consideration, an agreement to refrain from a particular use of land is subject to contract principles, under which courts try to effectuate the legitimate desires of the covenanting parties. When landowners express the intention to limit land use, that intention should be carried out. Thus, when enforcing equitable servitudes, courts are generally disinclined to question the wisdom of agreed-to restrictions. This rule does not apply, however, when the restriction does not comport with public policy. Equity will not enforce any restrictive covenant that violates public policy. Nor will courts enforce as equitable servitudes those restrictions that are arbitrary, that is, bearing no rational relationship to the protection, preservation, operation or purpose of the affected land.
Plaintiff Natore Nahrstedt, who owned three cats, sued defendants Lakeside Village Condominium Association (“Association”), its officers, and two of its employees, for declaratory relief to prevent defendants from enforcing a prohibition against keeping pets contained in the association's recorded covenants, conditions, and restrictions. Nahrstedt asked the trial court to invalidate the assessments of fines against her, to enjoin future assessments, to award damages for violation of her privacy, to award damages for infliction of emotional distress, and to declare the pet restriction unreasonable as applied to indoor cats (such as Nahrstedt's) that were not allowed free run of the project's common areas. The trial court sustained the Association’s demurrer as to each cause of action and dismissed the complaint. The Court of Appeals reversed, concluding that the complaint stated a claim for declaratory relief based on Nahrstedt's allegation that her cats were kept inside her condominium and did not bother neighbors.
Was the Association’s pet restriction reasonable?
Upon further review, however, the California Supreme Court reversed. The court held that Cal. Civ. Code § 1354 required that the court enforce the covenants, conditions, and restrictions contained in the recorded declaration of a common interest development unless unreasonable. Under Civ. Code § 1354(a) such use restrictions are enforceable equitable servitudes, unless unreasonable. Appellant-plaintiff Nahrsted'ts allegations were insufficient to show that the pet restrictions harmful effects substantially outweighed its benefits to the condominium development as a whole, that it bore no rational relationship to the purpose or function of the development, or that it violated public policy. The Court concluded, as a matter of law, that the recorded pet restriction of the condominium development prohibiting cats or dogs but allowing some other pets is not arbitrary, but is rationally related to health, sanitation and noise concerns legitimately held by residents of a high-density condominium project.