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Cutting Through the Latest Pet Madness

The ongoing debate about pets in strata buildings has largely been focused on the rules [laws and by-laws] and has ignored the actual issues: the pet, the pet owner, other residents, and, the building.  So, here’s some thinking about these human and practical matters.

Although there have always been conflicts over pets in strata buildings, it seems that over the last 12-24 months there’s been a significant increase in the attention this subject is receiving around Australia.

I’m sure there’ll be plenty more to cover as the regulatory and legal issues develop. But, for now, I want to instead explore the human and practical issues surrounding keeping pets in strata buildings by discussing 5 areas that I believe are critical to good outcomes and are not being addressed adequately.

At the heart of the pets in strata debate are apartment residents who want to have pets and balancing those wishes with other strata residents’ living amenity and building management needs.

  1. Housing challenges for pet owners are real

Pet owners face many challenges with housing choices.

Often they have to make choices between keeping their pet/s and their preferred housing choice; typically leading to compromises about the housing quality, location, cost, or security.

The article by The Conversation, Can I have a pet and be housed, too? It all depends … is a great summary of this challenge and the research undertaken by AHURi on the topic.

Some highlights of their findings include.

  • Laws and policies for pets remain restrictive across many housing sectors.
  • In an estimated 15%-25% of situations where someone has to give up a pet are related to housing restrictions.
  • There is evidence that pet-friendly housing earns higher rents and leased more easily.
  • Pet restriction can be a barrier to moving closer to work or downsizing.
  • Solutions exist that do not penalise pet owners or their pets.

We need to recognise the significant value [and costs] to pet owners poorly considered or applied rules about keeping pets can have on them.

So, a more commercially realistically approach is needed.

 

  1. Human needs for pets are a strong

People have socially interacted with animals for a long time.  It’s believed that wolves were the first animal to be domesticated by humans almost 33,000 years ago.  And, most pets have been selectively bred and genetically adapted over generations to live alongside humans.

Similarly, many humans have become adapted to live with dogs, cats, and other domesticated animals.

Plus, there’s plenty of research and opinions about the benefits of living with a pet including [according to the RSPCA]:

  • Physical health benefits from increased activity, immune system improvements, etc,
  • Psychological benefits affecting empathy, self-esteem, reduced depression, etc.
  • Social benefits from the outside activities and interactions pet care involves,

This 2017 Washington Post article is a nice summary of these things that, I believe, fairly balances things.

Sometimes the need to keep a pet arises because of family and personal obligations when someone else becomes sick, has to travel or dies and their pet needs re-homing.  Which is another kind of human emotional need.

We need to recognise these are real human factors that can’t be ignored or blandly dismissed satisfactorily due to strata laws or rules.

So, a more sensitive approach is needed.

 

  1. Fairness & dignity

Not everyone in strata buildings can do or have what they want.  Whether it’s about keeping a pet or something else, strata buildings necessarily involve compromises [at least from time to time].

So, it’s obvious that not every pet should have permission to stay in a strata building.

But strata residents [and their pets] are entitled to the fair treatment of their requests to live in strata buildings.

That occurs when there is a readily accessible process for permission that includes clear guidelines and milestones.  The process should also proceed with transparency and openness.  And, there should not be any harassment, bullying, or other abuse by or to participants.

Along the way, opportunities to negotiate options and conditions that might apply to the pet should be explored.

When a decision is made, the reasons should be explained in understandable ways.

In that way, someone may be unhappy with the outcome [a pet owner when refused and/or other strata residents if the pet is approved] but at least it’s been reached properly.

In the end, the decision in Cooper’s Case is as much a result of the strata building’s failure or refusal to consider the actual merits and problems of keeping Angus in its building as it was due to legal matters.

So, better processes to consider pet applications. Is needed.

 

  1. Managing risk and behaviours

In many instances, but not always, the reasons why strata buildings want to impose no pets by-laws or why they refuse permission to keep pets is because of concerns over animal behaviours, the impacts on other residents, or damage to common property areas.

But, just like strata humans, some pets will be a problem, and others will be fine.  And, it’s impossible to predict which they are in advance.

That’s probably another underlying reason why Cooper’s Case concluded that blanket pet ban by-laws are invalid.

So, what’s actually required is a way to monitor and manage pet behaviour to identify problems when they arise, explore ways to fix the problem, monitor ongoing issues, and, if the problems persist end the permission.

I’ve rarely seen anything like that set up and have never seen it actually applied.

On the other hand, I’ve seen pets that have been given lifetime permission to be in strata buildings become problems and those strata buildings struggle to manage the consequences.

Plus, it’s appropriate and necessary to require evidence of pet vaccination, registration, and other general health matters.  And, to get that updated as required.  It’s all readily available from pet owners.

This issue is starting to emerge in relation to companion animals [which generally are exempt from restrictions] with some strata buildings challenging that status and requiring evidence to substantiate it.

But, again, this kind of pet information is not generally required or kept up to date with strata buildings.

So, ongoing management of pets in strata buildings is needed.

 

  1. Undocumented pets in strata buildings

Does the strata title sector have an undocumented pet problem?

There could very likely be many pets being kept secretly in strata buildings by strata owners and residents who don’t know they need permission or araae actively avoiding seeking it for a range of good and bad reasons.

After all, according to the RSPCA, there are 29 million pets in Australia [1.25 pets for every Australian] and 61% of households have pets.

So, since almost 10% of the Australian population lives in strata buildings [2.3 million out of 24.0 million] could it be that there are 2.9 million pets in strata buildings?

If there are that many strata living pets, I daresay most don’t have strata building permission.

You can pretend your strata building by-laws are stopping unapproved pets all you like, but the reality could be [and probably is] very different.

Isn’t it better that the pets actually in strata buildings are identified and fairly managed, rather than them living in the strata shadows.

So, we need to get these strata pets out of the closet.

I believe there’s a better [and smarter] strata pet future that doesn’t rely on by-laws.  Let’s see if we can make it happen.

 

This article was contributed by Francesco Andreone – GoStrata

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  1. Kevin

    The references to Coopers case are opaque to anyone who has not read about it. I Googled and found it (but only after refining my search)

  2. David Johnson

    Your comments only acknowledge a problem faced by most Body Corporate Committees. We need recommendations on how to overcome these issues. Is it appropriate to place a restriction on the size or weight of the pet? How do we handle the disposal of kitty litter and the like? You suggest proof of vaccination be provided but how do you enforce that?

    How does the Body Corp deal with renters when the landlord fails to enforce matters relating to pets? There is often a managing agent between the occupier and the owner. Is there a means for the body Corp to interact with the agent without taking the matter to court?

    I believe these issues cannot be completely resolved without legislation that clearly spells out the rights of the occupier, landlord, agent and body Corp. If there is an alternative solution l will appreciate it being spelt out for me.

  3. Lee

    Hi Francesco,

    Where does current legalities lie in QLD Strata with residents wanting to keep more than one animal in a unit? Lets say 2 dogs.

    In our complex we have a Pet By Law that currently allows a resident/owner to keep “one” animal, not including fish. It also has a clause to state that may be overridden if “exceptional circumstances” are presented as a reason for wanting more than one animal.

    We have had several cases this year where owners have applied to keep 2 dogs and they have been approved by the committee without any request to provide exceptional circumstances. Some members of the committee felt the one animal By Law (written by Strata lawyers just over 2 years ago) was “unreasonable” and “restrictive” and made an assumption that if the committee were challenged on a refusal to approve 2 dogs, that they would lose an adjudication. No precedence cases in QLD were provided.

    I believe one factor taken into account was the local council guidelines that 2 animals could be kept in a dwelling. I would think a unit complexes By Laws would, and should, override any council guidelines and that if the committee felt the one animal By Law was too restrictive that they should have proposed a change at the next general meeting and seek owners approval to that change BEFORE approving any 2 dog pet applications in a manner that violates the current By Law.

    I am all for being reasonable especially around the pet issue but I feel the committee have done a disservice to owners in the manner in which they approached these applications and have set a precedence that may now leave the BC unable to dispute at any time in the future.

    I also would like to know what will happen if a new Pet By Law automatically allowing 2 dogs in our complex is not voted in favour of by owners?

    Your feedback would be appreciated.

  4. Nerida Pokarier

    Hi Francesco

    Thank you for your article in relation to pets.

    Just recently new owners of a lot moved into a strata complex. They have 2 very small Choodles with a combined weight of less than 5 kilos.

    The lot owners were not provided with a copy of the By-laws by either the real estate agent or conveyancing law firm. By-laws state permission has to be obtained to have 2 pets.

    New Lot Owners had no access to their Strata Portal for a period of time after settlement, no BC Information was provided to new owners by BC Committee upon their arrival either.

    Once the new lot owners had access to the By-laws they were very diligent & read the document, upon becoming aware permission was required they submitted a letter to request BC permission.

    In the interim another lot owner lodged a complaint about their 2 dogs. BC has issued a letter that the dogs be removed & that new lot owners options are to contact the Commissioner.

    What advice would you give based upon these circumstances?

    Many thanks in advance

  5. Francesco Andreone

    Kevin – Sorry for the opacity on Cooper’s case. Here’s a link to more detailed article I’ve written about the case – https://gostrata.substack.com/p/the-dogs-of-strata-war-or-the-by

    David – This article is just one in a series I’m writing about dealing with pets in strata buildings at GoStrata Stak. You can subscribe here – https://gostrata.substack.com/subscribe?

    Lee & Nerida – I’m not generally providing online advice about individual building issues. But, I will find someone who can assist and get back to you both on that shortly.

    Cheers
    Francesco