Nonsense on both sides of the latest pet debate

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There’s a lot of nonsense being spouted on both sides of the pet debate these days.

The issue was been stirred up most recently by the Animal Liberationists adding a clause to a NSW State Government Bill to alter strata law.

The original Bill was designed to make it easier to add environmentally responsible structures (like solar panels) to common property.

The proposed change to strata law had nothing to do with pets, unless someone has found a way of rigging up hamster wheels to generate electricity.

In the subsequent debate, you have the pro-pet lobby claiming it is unreasonable for any buildings to ban all pets all the time, especially when a majority of owners want them to be allowed. 

Thus, if the Animal Lib amendment survives the lower House vote – which it won’t – then one owner in a block of 10, 100 or 1000 units could impose their pet preferences on everyone else.

Then you have the no-pet activists demanding their right to pass or retain by-laws preventing anyone from ever having a pet under any circumstances. 

Many of the current no-pets strata schemes have openly discussed and debated the issue and have reached the collective decision, sometimes by substantial majorities, to retain their no-pets status.

Others are using the minority 25 per cent veto on changes to by-laws to cling on to outdated rules dating from a time when the majority of Australians thought it was bizarre that people lived in apartments, let alone animals.

In NSW, this “ratchet” effect requires a 75 percent of a vote to change by-laws, thus only 25 percent to prevent them from being changed.

Walkies

Regardless of some of the high-falutin arguments offered – one quoting Votlaire, I’m told – this is hardly the irresistible force meeting the immovable object. 

It’s more like mutually exclusive opinions being taken for walkies, like two dogs where one wants to sniff every lampost while the other just wants to get to the park and run free.

Add to the mix, autocratic committee members who see any change (that they didn’t think of) as a challenge to their authority, and opportunities for reasonable discussion and resolution evaporate.

My opinion, for what it’s worth, is that pets enhance the sense of community in most blocks.  For those who can only see the potential for disruption of one kind or another, there is a routinely ignored part of our strata laws that spell out how to deal with pets that were approved but later prove to be a nuisance.

It really is that simple.

However, I also believe that people who don’t want to live in the same building as animals for personal, cultural, religious or health reasons, should be allowed to buy or rent a property in the reasonably secure knowledge that the blocks’ no-pets by-laws aren’t going to change.

Fundamental rights

There is a totally spurious argument floating around, from a variety of sources, that the Animal Lib amendment expunges the fundamental right of owners corporations to create their own set of rules, without restriction.

This “right” is a myth.  I know plenty of people who would rather not live in blocks alongside families with children, but strata law expressly forbids us from passing any such restrictive by-law.

I can imagine that there are areas of our cities where exclusively single-faith apartment blocks would attract the more devoted members of our various religions.  They are forbidden too, even if 100 percent of the owners agreed to that restriction.

For many years, the opportunists of short-term holiday lets have hidden behind a highly dubious statute blocking by-laws that interfered with “dealing” with property.

We weren’t supposed to pass by-laws that expressly forbade short-term lets (even though the Development Approvals of many of our apartment blocks did exactly that). Planning laws existed to limit holiday rentals where they weren’t wanted or needed.

When the flaws in our restrictions on by-laws started to appear, our state government, guided by their mates in Airbnb and their ilk, forced us to either bring in our short-term holiday rental by-laws or allow our apartment blocks to be turned into virtual hotels.

At least in NSW we have that choice. In other states it’s open slather.

But it’s a strange kind of freedom where your “right” to live in the kind of home you purchased or rented must be reasserted by a 75 per cent majority vote of your neighbours.

Also, as a result of our politicians’ craven indulgence of overseas online holiday letting agents, the by-laws that we are now obliged to pass (or live with the consequence) have more holes than a rusty colander. 

So much for the inviolable right to run our buildings exactly the way the majority of owners want.  It simply doesn’t exist.

The “freedom” to make our own rules for the way we live is tightly controlled and often largely spurious.

But there are more compelling arguments for rejecting the Animal Lib amendment, while respecting the right of animal lovers to at least try to change the by-laws in their buildings.

Re-set

First we need a re-set. I referred earlier to not being allowed to pass by-laws banning children.  The exception is registered over-55s schemes that have never allowed families and have been permitted and marketed on that basis.

The government should establish a self-managed register of pet or no-pet blocks and legislate that all apartment blocks MUST consider the issue at their next AGM.

Legislation would then allow 75 per cent of owners to agree, via a by-law, that their pro-pet or no-pet status would not be challenged for, say 20 years.

It would give certainty to renters, owners and potential purchasers that neither a revolt by owners nor an appeal to any Tribunal would alter that status for the foreseeable future.

Those blocks that couldn’t raise the 75 percent vote to establish their pet register status, could then, on a once-only basis, decide to keep or expunge their current by-laws on a simple majority, with the decision subject to review under normal processes. 

That would establish whether blocks were permanently pet-friendly or pet-free, or somehere in between. Those in the middle would see the preferences of a majority of owners take precedence over highly motivated minorities determined clinging on to outdated by-laws.

Convulsed

It’s ridiculous that 26 percent of owners can prevent the other 74 percent from allowing pets into their block.  But not quite as ridiculous as the proposal that a single owner could bring animals into a building where 99 percent of owners didn’t want them to.

A confession: I have history in this area. When brand new, the building in which I live was convulsed at its first AGM by an effort to ban animals (when many of we new owners had been assured it was pet friendly).

The upshot was that an unlikely coalition of animal lovers got rid of our chairman and his cronies on the committee, not to mention the most dishonest, corrupt and incompetent building manager I have ever encountered.

Those experiences – which at one point involved threats of violence and the possibility that we’d have to sell our new home – led to the creation of the Flat Chat newspaper column and this website.

It’s an ill wind … but I can fully empathise with people who bought into a no-pets block on that basis, only to find that change was afoot; just as I’d be outraged if I was told the rules had been changed and I had to get rid of my sanity support ginger cat.

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