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Pets may be a vital part of your family. But, if you live in an apartment, the rules about keeping pets have been mixed and unclear. The laws also vary in different states in Australia. New South Wales law has recently changed. Following a Sydney court judgment, owners’ corporations can no longer implement blanket bans on pet ownership in apartments or units. This article will explain:

  • how the rules cover pet ownership in apartments;
  • recent changes to NSW by-laws regulating pet ownership; and
  • how the new change will work in practice. 

What Rules Cover Apartments and Units?  

Most buildings that include more than two dwellings fall under an ownership system called a strata scheme. These buildings include apartments, unit blocks or townhouse developments.

In a strata scheme, each dwelling or ‘strata’ is owned separately. Together, the owners form a legal entity called an owners’ corporation (previously known as a body corporate). The owners’ corporation manages the common property and oversees repairs, maintenance and regulation required for the building. The common property includes all parts of the building accessible by all owners, such as driveways, foyers and gardens. All members jointly own the common property.

Each owners’ corporation has by-laws, which are rules that cover the day-to-day housekeeping for the building and the common property. The by-laws cover issues like parking and gardens, garbage and pets. For example, by-laws may grant exclusive use of common areas to particular owners. 

An owners’ corporation can make and register its own by-laws. Alternatively, they can adopt standard or ‘model’ by-laws provided through existing strata legislation. Any by-laws made by an owners’ corporation cannot be harsh, unconscionable or oppressive to owners. If an owners’ corporation wants to change or introduce any by-laws, it must do this at a general meeting. Once by-laws are passed, they are registered on the title of the property.

A by-law is only enforceable if 75% of members vote in favour of it at a general meeting of all members of the owners’ corporation. 

I’m Renting – Can I Have a Pet?

The same by-laws apply to both renters and owners in an apartment or unit block. However, renters may have additional rules that are covered by the lease they enter with the landlord. You should ask your real estate agent for a copy of a building’s by-laws before you sign a lease, so you can ensure they will be suitable for you. Even if the by-laws allow pets in the building, in some states, a landlord may not allow pets in an individual apartment or unit.

Before you sign a new lease, check if it specifically covers pet ownership. You should obtain the consent of the landlord before moving into an apartment with a pet. If you are already renting a property and want to buy a pet, you should ask the agent or landlord for consent before doing so. If you don’t, you risk eviction from the property.

New Case Law in NSW

Recently, the owner of a high-rise apartment in inner-city Sydney wanted to keep her pet miniature schnauzer, Angus, in her apartment. However, the apartment block’s by-laws banned all pet ownership in the building. The owner took the owners’ corporation to court, arguing the rules were unfair and asking the court to overturn the no-pets policy. The owner spent more than $250,000 in legal costs, and the court case took more than four and a half years, ending in the NSW Court of Appeal. 

In October 2020, the court found that the owners’ corporation could not make by-laws that impacted what owners did inside their own homes. Specifically, the court said owners’ corporations could not ban pet ownership in apartments. The case may impact all strata developments in NSW and potentially affect the limits on other types of by-laws that owners’ corporations can introduce. 

The Rules Around Pets in Apartments 

Even if your owners’ corporation allows pets in the apartment, you still need to follow certain rules. As a pet owner, you have a responsibility to ensure your pet does not cause problems for other owners in the apartment block. If your pet causes concerns with other owners, there is a chance the owners’ corporation may apply for orders to permit your pet from the building. 

Common rules around owning pets in apartments may include: 

  • dogs must be on a leash and supervised at all times in common areas; 
  • owners must clean or repair any mess or damage the pet makes to common property; 
  • pets must be house trained; 
  • limits on the number of pets kept in an apartment; and
  • pets must not be excessively noisy or impact other residents in any negative way.

Owners’ corporations give exceptions to pets working to assist people with disabilities. For example, ‘assistance animals’ including guide dogs for bling persons.

Key Takeaways

The rules about pet ownership in apartments and units have been varied in Australia. There are often different rules across states and within particular owners’ corporations in some buildings. A 2020 court judgment in NSW changes the regulation of pets in buildings. Specifically, owners’ corporations can no longer place a blanket ban on pets. 

Whether you own or rent, it is important to understand the by-laws that cover pet ownership in your building. This includes any behaviour that could get your pet permanently banned. If you have any questions about pet ownership in apartments or the laws around strata ownership, contact LegalVision’s litigation lawyers on 1300 544 755 or fill out the form on this page.  

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