The big question swirling around “no-pets” blocks in NSW, following the Court of Appeal’s decision against the Horizon building’s by-law last week, is “what next?’
And the answer is probably a scramble to remove, replace and amend pet by-laws to reflect both the legal ruling and current community standards withing individual blocks.
According to strata lawyer David Sachs, speaking on this week’s Flat Chat Wrap podcast, existing no-pet by-laws can stay on strata schemes’ registers, until such times as they are removed by the Owners Corporation.
And the strata committee or strata manager could theoretically issue Notices to Comply based on them. But why would they?
Such action would be taken in the almost certain knowledge that the tribunal (NCAT) would reject the NTC because of the Court of Appeal ruling. Why would any strata committee bother pursuing a complaint that was bound to fail?
But the Court of Appeal ruling is not a “get out of jail” card for badly behaved pets and their inconsiderate owners.
If your dog disturbs neighbours by barking all day and night, or growls and lunges at other owners or dogs in the lift, it could be in breach of strata laws (not by-laws) that allow schemes to apply to NCAT for orders to remove even permitted animals from the building if they are a nuisance.
The same might apply if your cat or dog was proved to be triggering a severe allergic reaction in a neighbour, impacting on their health, and there was no other effective remedy. People come before pets, but that’s an extreme scenario.
For now, in the absence of an appeal to the High Court (so far), buildings should probably revoke their no-pets blanket bans at their next AGMs, just to tidy up the loose ends, and consider replacing them with something that is legal, enforceable and reflects community standards.
Meanwhile, anyone looking to buy into a building with a “no-pets” by-law might face some resistance although it would probably not mean they’d lose the pet. However, they might consider how strongly feelings are running against pets, especially if the block has recently reconfirmed its objections to them.
The law is one thing but peer pressure is another and pet-owning prospective purchasers and tenants should take the level of anti-animal animosity of any block before they sign on the dotted line.
One of the effects of by-laws is to signal community standards to prospective owners and tenants, so they know what they are getting into.
And make no mistake, determinedly anti-pet committees can always find ways of making pet owners’ lives more difficult, including by introducing by-laws covering common property. They were not affected by the Court of Appeal ruling. That was all about by-laws covering behaviour in residents’ homes.
Okay, owners corporations can’t bring in by-laws forbidding animals from crossing common property when they are travelling to and from their homes, but they could demand that animals be carried across common property, leashed, muzzled or even transported in pet baskets or crates.
There are myriad other ways of harassing pet owners in buildings where they aren’t wanted, so the idea that our previously pet-free blocks are suddenly going to be swamped with pets is alarmist (to non-pet people), to say the least.
Meanwhile, we can probably expect to see a raft of restrictive by-laws coming into the most resolutely anti-pet buildings, if only to make pet owners aware, before they buy in, that they and their fur-babies are not welcome.
On the other hand, smart buildings – especially where a dogged (no pun intended) minority has blocked change by mustering 25 per cent of the vote – should now be looking to revoke blanket bans and replace them with something more reflective of current attitudes.
This will shake out some of the rusted-on no-pets by-laws that the majority of owners don’t want but can’t raise the numbers to remove.
However, this doesn’t mean the end of by-laws as we know them.
Right now apartment blocks are looking to common property by-laws to plug a loophole in the short-term letting provision in strata laws that allows owners and tenants to stay in their apartments during the week, then let them out to visitors at weekends, on the basis that it is still their principle place of residence.
That’s another fight that will run and run, with the bell for the opening round ringing just as soon as tourism picks up.