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Cat smugglers play possum

There is nothing quite so tragic, in strata terms at least, as the plaintive pleas of a pet owner who has tried to do the right thing and still fallen foul of by-laws.

QUESTION: My partner and I desperately wanted a little dog so I attended our AGM to see if we could change the anti-pet by-laws of the building. Everyone there was against allowing dogs but executive committee members gave me the very clear impression that cats were fine.

Three months later, my partner and I are the loving (and responsible) owners of two cats rescued from the pound. However, the other day I got a call from the chair of the committee saying someone had complained that they saw a cat in my window.

He asked me when I planned to get rid of the cats and I told him my fiance and I were totally unwilling to give them up but that we would be moving out within the year anyway. He admitted he never would have known we had cats if the complaint had not been received.

He has told me that he will take my situation to the next committee meeting. I am worried sick – what is the worst they can do?
Kittysmuggler, Manly

ANSWER: Relax. You are among those lucky few people for whom our out-dated and ponderous strata laws actually work. The executive committee can’t physically remove you or your cats and by the time the normal processes are worked through, you’ll be ready to move on.

First they have to issue you with a breach notice, then take you to the Office of Fair Trading for a mediation, when you will be able to state your case.

If they are determined, they can then ask for a “paper” adjudication from the Consumer Trader and Tenancy Tribunal after which they can take you to a full tribunal. It is only after this – months and months later – that you can be fined, although you may only get a warning at first.

So super-polite non-compliance would be my response. Faced with months of hassle and the fact that you are planning to move out anyway, your EC may well decide not to pursue it.

AND HERE’S ANOTHER ONE …

This will be one of hundreds of emails you’ll get today, after your FLAT CHAT in today’s “Herald”.

I am an owner-occupier in a large high-rise in Darling Point. I moved in nearly five years ago. In October 2005 my dughter landed me with her elderly dog after she landed a good job in Singapore.

Although a by law banning pets had been voted in in the 1980s, it was NEVER RESGISTERED. I followed the advice given re keeping pets and wrote to the Body Corporate asking permission, undertaking not to allow my dog to be a nuisance. I never recieved a written reply, but had many verbal assurances that all would be OK.

In May last year an EGM of the Body Corporate moved that a by law banning pets be introduced. The motion was passed and the by law registered. Again, I received verbal assurances that my beautifully-behaved dog would not be at risk.

Then three days ago I was told that a court order would shortly be taken out demanding removal of the dog. I’ve received nothing in writing, and am distraught. What can I do?

ANSWER: First, you can tell whoever threatened you to back off! Then pay $63 (your daughter can stump up for this) to get a mediation at the Office of Fair Trading (13 32 20). There is no way a court will issue an order while proceedings are going ahead through the OFT – and in any case they will probably order both sides to follow normal OFT channels first.

At the OFT mediation, you can argue your case and tell them that you have been allowed to keep the dog up until now, you’ve had no complaints about it, you got no reply when you asked for permission in writing and that this latest move is an infringement of your established and accepted rights as an owner.

In a spirit of compromise, however, you could undertake not to replace the dog when it goes. If the mediation goes against you – and I’d lay odds that it won’t – you can still appeal through the CTTT. It will be along, long time before your neighbours even get near a court with this. Hang in there and, by the way, note any incidents of verbal bullying on this. – JT

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