The vexed question of pets in apartments and unfair by-laws took a new twist this week when Alex Greenwich, Sydney’s member of the NSW Parliament saw his proposal for a compromise accepted by all parties in Parliament.
Last year, the government was thrown into a spin when an innocuous Bill proposing minor fixes to strata regulations had an amendment added in the Legislative Council, by Emma Hurst of the Animal Justice Party, that effectively said no by-laws could ban pets from buildings.
Then, shortly thereafter, the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Horizon resident Jo Cooper that the no-pets by-law in her block was harsh and unconscionable and therefore invalid.
Suddenly Sydney strata lurched from buildings being able to ban pets for no good reason, to pets potentially being allowed carte blanche, regardless of the circumstances of the animals, the owners or other residents.
In the absence of a compromise, theoretically people with serious allergies to animal hair and dander might have had to move out if a neighbour decided to introduce a dog or cat to their apartment block.
That compromise arrived this week in the form of a new amendment proposed by Mr Greenwich which, on the one hand, said apartment blocks could not unreasonably refuse pets.
But it also said that a by-law that placed restrictions on pets would not in itself be harsh, unconscionable or oppressive and therefore invalid just by virtue of it being in existence, depending on the circumstances.
However, the default is still to allow pets. The amendment also says an owners corporation will effectively have given permission for the keeping of an animal if a refusal is unreasonable or if it takes too long in considering an application for a pet.
The amendment also ties the Minister for Better Regulation to a commitment to consider a report on the having pets in strata buildings, including the following parameters:
- the circumstances in which it is reasonable to prohibit the keeping of animals,
- the impacts of kept animals on the health and wellbeing of residents,
- the barriers faced by residents in the keeping of animals and by persons who require assistance animals, including vulnerable persons (such as people fleeing domestic violence).
- the welfare of the pets
- how to limit any adverse impacts of kept animals on common property, including the adequacy of existing laws to deal with this,
- to resolve disputes about the keeping of animals,
- the effects of a change to the by-laws for a scheme that prohibits the keeping of an animal that was lawfully kept on a lot before the change.
The inquiries for the report must start as soon as the amended laws take effect and be tabled six months later.
The ensuing debate illustrated an all-too-rare concurrence and compromise with many Members keen to display their pet-loving credentials.
Alex Greenwich said “As someone who lives with a companion animal—my rescue dog, Max—in an extremely pet-friendly apartment building, I know first-hand the importance of pets to a person’s health and wellbeing.”
He added that his amendment would allow the Minister to formulate regulations that would establish what was “reasonable” or otherwise in owners corporations determining whether or not to allow pets.
“The amendments build on the Animal Justice Party amendment … and follow the recent Court of Appeal ruling that required links between by‑laws that ban pets and impacts on the lot owners,” he told Parliament.
“While the court’s ruling required a connection between pet bans and impacts, it did not define when an impact on another owner or resident is reasonable. Relying on it creates new uncertainty that could result in disputes.
“My amendments provide the statutory clarification needed by giving the Minister powers to set regulations that determine when it is reasonable and, conversely, unreasonable to prohibit the keeping of animals on a lot.
“Such prohibitions will be limited to circumstances where the keeping of an animal unreasonably interferes with another occupant’s use and enjoyment of their lot or common property.”
Manly MP James Griffin said the amendments struck a balance between the interests of those who wish to keep an animal in a strata lot and those of other residents who may be affected by the keeping of an animal.
Choir of cats
“Your home is your castle, and as long as your pets do not have an impact on your neighbours, you should be free to keep them,” he said. “However, this bill does not give strata residents carte blanche to move in with half a dozen Great Danes or a choir of loud tabby cats.”
He said the changes would allow the growing number of strata owners to own a pet while the regulations could prescribe specific circumstances in which the keeping of an animal unreasonably interfered with another occupant’s use and enjoyment of their home or the common area.
Greens MP Jenny Leong said the amendments made it clear that it was reasonable to keep a pet in a strata building unless the animal unreasonably interfered with the use and enjoyment of common property by another occupant.
But she issued a warning about what the proposed regulations might contain: “The Greens will not hesitate to disallow those regulations if this Government moves to make those regulations in a way that does not follow the intention of this amendment and the wish of the community, which is to recognise that pets are part of everybody’s family and to allow our furry friends to be in our homes.”
Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson released a statement saying, “For too long common sense has been missing in this debate. These amendments provide a sensible solution that balances the rights of pet owners with those of other apartment owners.
“Importantly, the changes also recognise there will be times when the keeping of a pet may not be appropriate in a complex due to the impact this will have on neighbours or the welfare of the animal.
“These changes are a sensible response to modernise our strata laws by removing outdated, and unfair blanket pets bans where it can be shown that keeping a pet won’t impact other people.”
He said the NSW Government will now consult with the community to establish clear guidelines on when it will be considered unreasonable for a pet to be kept in a strata complex and intends to finalise Regulations within six months, before the new amendments come into force.
This will also include details of how the new requirements will interact with existing by-laws.
To enable proper consultation, the Government will extend the closing date for submissions to the current Statutory Review of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 until March 7 for anyone wishing to make a submission relating to the keeping of pets.
To have your say, visit: https://www.haveyoursay.nsw.gov.au/strata-statutory-review-2020.
You can download the actual wording of the pet amendment HERE. These proposed changes will go before the Legislative Council next week.