If you (1) live in NSW, (2) either rent or own in a strata scheme and (3) own a pet, then you’re probably aware that in 2015 the NSW Government passed multiple changes to strata law. The changes, which are due to come into effect on 30 November 2016, concern not just the keeping of pets but a variety of measures such as removing abandoned vehicles left on common property and where you can smoke (cigarettes or other “substances” interestingly). As you’d expect though, here at Cat Habitat we are most interested in how these changes impact someone’s ability to keep pets in a strata scheme.
Your ability to have pets in a strata scheme will come down to what’s written in the registered by-laws of individual strata schemes. Under the new regulations, your ability to keep a pet in NSW will depend on when your by-laws were registered. If they were registered before the Strata Schemes Management Act 1996 came into effect, which was 1 July 1997, then you are subject to the blanket ban on keeping animals unless approval has been given by the owners corporation. Schemes registered after 1 July 1997 come under the Model By-laws which offer 3 options regarding pets and are along the lines of:
- Occupiers must not keep any animal (fish in an aquarium is the exception) without approval from the owners corporation, but this approval must not be unreasonably withheld;
- Occupiers must not keep any animal (with the exception of a cat, small dog, caged bird or fish in an aquarium) without approval from the owners corporation, and again this approval must not be unreasonably withheld; or
- Occupiers must not keep any animal.
If no option is selected, option A applies.
The amended model by-laws coming into effect later this year are intended to make it easier for people to keep pets in a strata scheme development by removing any reference to a ban on pet ownership. While an owners corporation is not bound to take on the model by-laws and can continue to write their own by-laws, all strata schemes are required to review their by-laws within 12 months of 30 November 2016. This certainly opens the door to considering the lifting of bans that currently exist in many instances.
Those who maintain that pets should not be kept in an apartment frequently cite their concerns to be around barking dogs, unattended pets roaming willy-nilly on common property, or there being a level of cruelty involved in keeping a pet in a small space. Taking each of these concerns individually, if one of your co-apartment dwellers has a dog that barks its head off as soon as the owners leaves, this issue can be handled in exactly the same way as your other neighbour who plays their favourite Michael Buble song on constant loop, full volume at 7am on Sunday morning. The owners corp advises of a breach of by-laws to the occupant outlining the infringement and requesting that their behaviour be rectified. The same remedy will exist for residents who let their pet free range around common property. Not only is this inconsiderate toward other occupiers but it is potentially dangerous for said pet. Especially for cats we advocate that they should always be kept indoors for their own safety. As to the issue of it being cruel to keep a pet in a small space, well that comes back to being a responsible pet owner and choosing a pet that’s suitable for your circumstances. Cats will live perfectly happily completely indoors provided they are given appropriate mental and physical stimulus. The breeds of dogs that best suit apartments may surprise you, but large breeds such as greyhounds (and there are going to be many of these up for adoption in the next year) who like a brisk walk every day but otherwise are happy to loll around at home are a brilliant fit for apartment living. Conversely, a small dog like a Jack Russell with a high energy level is unlikely to be your best bet.
With housing affordability a massive issue in a lot of our capital cities, and various levels of government encouraging us to live in higher density housing, the number of people living in apartments (most of which are strata schemes) will only increase. In fact, the estimate is that within the next 40 years Sydney will be split 50/50 with the same number of apartments as free standing houses. Strata by-laws need to be flexible enough to accommodate people at all stages of their life and with all different versions of family types. With forecasts suggesting that there will be more single person households in our future, pets can play an important part in avoiding feelings of loneliness and isolation, and often act to increase the connections within communities.
Around the rest of the country, the laws concerning pet ownership in strata schemes are already much more relaxed. In Victoria, pets are allowed unless the body corporate deems it is a nuisance or a danger, while in South Australia, Tasmania, Western Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory only permission from the strata corporation is required. In Queensland it’s accepted that an owners corp does not have the authority under the applicable legislation to entirely ban pet ownership.
For heavens sake, apartment living has been the norm for many people in European cities for decades and that has gone hand in hand with pet ownership. Come on NSW, you seem to be OK with sipping your skim latte amongst people’s doggie friends, don’t you think it’s time to get with it and openly let people have a pet live with them in their apartment?