PETS IN APARTMENTS: A WAY OF LIFE
Updated: Dec 13, 2018
Australians love their pets, and apartment dwellers are no exception! While furry friends can bring their owners a lot of joy, they can also lead to disagreement.
Pets are a recurring issue in body corporate disputes, with some body corporates having a ‘no pet’ policy. (Sorry, Fido.) Adjudicators from the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management have the power to make decisions on body corporate disputes about pets. These decisions can override body corporate by-laws – meaning that Fido might get to stay after all. So, does this mean that body corporate by-laws are actually binding…or are they all bark and no bite?
It’s important to remember that apartment owners have just as much right to use their homes for lawful means as any other occupier. The right to keep a pet must to be balanced with the rights of other residents in the complex to the peaceful enjoyment of both their home and the building’s common areas. It’s vital that body corporate committees act reasonably and consider the individual circumstances of each case. Blanket bans or extreme restrictions don’t carry a great deal of weight unless there is evidence that the keeping of the pet will cause a nuisance or have some adverse effect on other occupiers. If a body corporate by-law denies pets outright, that by-law can be disputed.
In a recent example, a Queensland family purchased an apartment in a building with a by-law banning pets. They applied to the body corporate for permission to keep a galah named Joe who had been their pet for almost 20 years, but the body corporate denied their application and a dispute went on for some months. In 2016, an adjudicator found that the body corporate had acted unreasonably. Joe caused no nuisance, had been hand raised and had lived quietly in a clean cage ever since. He was allowed to stay.
However, body corporates can still refuse a specific animal if they have valid reasons why the animal would cause a nuisance or negatively impact the property. In 2018, an adjudicator found that a body corporate had been reasonable in its decision not to allow a pug named Daisy in an apartment block. The refusal had nothing to do with Daisy’s behaviour. The complex’s caretaker suffered from severe asthma, and the dog’s dander in common areas could have had exacerbated the condition and had a serious impact on the caretaker’s health. The adjudicator also took into consideration the fact that Daisy’s refusal would have no serious consequences to Daisy’s owner…although her owner might have disagreed.
Adjudicators often decide in favour of allowing the pet. However, in order to do so, conditions may be imposed. This may sound restrictive, but it can be a great way to make sure everyone is happy. By meeting conditions, pet owners can alleviate the concerns of body corporates and fellow residents. These might include common-sense restrictions like making sure the pet does not roam on common property or property belonging to other residents. Owners will often have to agree to conditions involving the removal of any animal waste, how much noise the pet makes (which is sometimes easier said than done) and making sure the animal is kept well-groomed and in good health to avoid the spread of parasites and disease – all things that good pet owners should be doing anyway!
Body corporates might simply adopt by-laws set out in the Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997, which provides that a resident has to have written permission from the body corporate before keeping an animal on the property. This is a practical solution, as it avoids any disputes about blanket bans entirely. But what if the body corporate has no by-laws relating to pets at all? In those cases, property owners don’t need to ask for permission to keep a pet. Of course, they should still make sure they respect any other by-laws relating to issues like noise and nuisance.
At the end of the day, it’s all about being reasonable, and that applies to both body corporates and pet owners! Every animal is different, so when a body corporate or adjudicator makes a decision about a specific pet, it doesn’t mean the same decision will be made for the pet next door.
If you’re involved in a dispute about animals in a body corporate, it’s important to make every effort to resolve the issue with the other party. If self-resolution doesn’t work, get in touch with the Office of the Commissioner for Body Corporate and Community Management to discuss conciliation or adjudication (note that fees apply). Alternatively, talk to the team at Body Corporate Law Queensland, a division of Hope Legal. They’ll do their best to find a resolution for you.