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Pets in apartments

By RandomGnome 26 June 2008 38

There is a slient tragedy unfolding here in Canberra. I refer to the increasing number of pets being abandoned as households downsize (due to age or higher interest rates) to apartments which have an outright ban on pets. 

As many of you will know its difficult to find an apartment in Canberra that is pet friendly. Usually a small number of politically active members on body corporates who don’t want pets change the rules so that pets ownership is banned. What makes this situation worse is that the Act which governs these rules makes it easy to ban pets   

 As some of you may know a review of the Unit Titles Act (which governs apartments and other strata complexes) has been going on since late 2006. And despite getting in a high priced consultant from QLD and heaps of great suggestions from the community, ACTPLA and Barr’s office have released what is unfortunately a very sloppy  peice of draft legisalation. Leaving aside the numerous mistakes in referencing and unexplained acroymns, it does not make it any easier for pet owners to live in  apartments.

Despite a fair bit of support shown by members of the public and some great suggestions by the RSPCA  on how to make it easier to have a pet in an apartment (and improve animal welfare), the Stanhope Government as basically cut and pasted from the NSW act – which whilst a bit better than what we have still makes it no easier for pet owners – because the rules can easily be changed. 

Now I could cite all the research about how apartment complexes that allow pets have greater rental returns and go up in value a lot faster, or how pets keep our senior citizens out of retirement homes for a lot longer – but us pet loving Canberran’s (we have among the highest levels of ownership in the world) already know all of that! Somehow though this community view is completely missing in the proposed legislation.  And so body corporates will continue find it easy to ban pets.

Now some of you will disagree with on having pets in apartments but I just don’t understand the fuss some people kick up about this. A resonsible owner will look after his or her pet and frankly little Billy’s goldfish in its little bowl is not really hurting the common good or communal living standards in an apartment complex! Yes there need to be reasonable limits on what kind of pets suit apartments and the RSPCA’ suggestion was that rather than let the body corproate decide let the RSPCA decide if a pet, its owner and the apartment complex are right for all concerned. But the government did not listen to this.

Further – the supreme court of Victoria has briefly debated the legality of such bans under a legislation which is really designed to look after common property and not impinge on the private use of a lot. That is to say, to try and dictate what happens in a person’s own home can be considered to be beyond the scope of the rulings of the body corporate.

As I  mentioned at the beginning of this post, there is a slient tragedy unfolding and it has been made all the more worse by the fact that it could be overcome by sound legislation and common sense. So to all you pet lovers out there, get on the phone to Andrew Barr or your local member and let them know that living in an apartment should not curtail the freedom to have a pet.

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Pets in apartments
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RandomGnome 8:11 pm 23 Jul 08

Sorry all for the delayed post – been overseas for the last three weeks – not very good internet access where I was staying.

Digger thanks so much for your post. I think your dead on the money with everything you said. I’ve just comeback from a developing nation where almost everyone is living in apartments and there is a high degree of pet ownership. It was so amazing to watch people come out at night and walk their pets and gather together as a community. I really wish we had that kind of atmosphere here in Canberra (of course that said I wouldn’t want live anywhere else!). In terms of RSPCA involvement I believe they are actively working with the Government to come up with a proposal.

There have been a number of submissions from various body corporates – some of which have been unsupportive of even the current amendemnts in the draft act – which basically states that you need to give a very good reason for why a person can’t keep a pet. So I suspect it will be a tough fight to get a more balanced and workable set of rules through. What concerns me is that even if a body corporate allows pets initally, there is no safeguard against them changing the rules later on. Which makes comitted pet ownership(say the 15 year lifespan of a dog) very difficult. I hope the government makes the admendments more equitable for all.

Digger 8:37 pm 04 Jul 08

I would like to express my opinion on this subject. I have lived for lengthy periods of time in many large cities overseas, sometimes in houses, sometimes in apartments. When I lived in central London, I lived in an apartment. Nearly all the apartments housed dogs and cats. It was quite the common experience to pass the time of day with a neighbour or two as they set out, dogs on leads, to the local parks. I made a lot of friends by beginning converstaions with pet owners. I have lived in apartments in the USA where pets were allowed too. There were seldom issues that could not be resolved when pets were troublesome. Indeed, most apartment dwellers voiced the opinion that pets were less noisy and troublesome in napartment buildings and lifts that children or teenagers could be. I currently live in an apartment and have far more issue with noisy renters, especially noisy student renters above me and other inconsiderate tenants or owners who use my garden area as their personal ash tray. Pets are good for your health and keep your blood pressure down – everyone knows that; doctors know that; retirement medicos know that. That’s why retirement villages often have communal pets who are owned by no-one in particular but loved and fed, by all. There are many newly single older Canberrans who do not want to become involved in another relationship but who miss company and who would love to have apet by their side. This should not be ignored. If medical evidence proves that pets are good for people then what right do selfish individuals or body corporates have to impose blanket ‘no pet’ rules on all apartment owners. If it is accepted that Londoners and other UK residents, as well as Washingtonians, Filipinos, Israelis and Canadians can all share their apartment spaces with animals then why do we make such an issue of that here? Obviously it would be improper for large numbers of animals to be allowed to dwell in apartments, but surely this kind of thing could be regulated.Why not get an organisation like the RSPCA to monitor pets in apartments. Surely that would not be difficult to organise. I would think that if apartment owners were allowed to have pets in their apartments, the pet owners would enjoy better health and be in better spirits.Of course some people might not be appropriate pet owners but those people who want pets should not be penalised. We all know people who should never father kids, or be allowed to parent children, yet we do not impose restrictive laws on them, preventing them from doing so. Can body corporates ban dirty or noisy owners and their badly behaved kids from living in apartments? No. Body corporates should not have the power to make determinations about pets either.

Tinkerbell 8:59 am 03 Jul 08

I am continually amazed at the majority of apartment owners who are prepared to succumb to the orders – no matter how unfair, unreasonable or vindictive – of what are essentially toothless tigers, i.e. body corp execs. In their eyes the only way to settle any dispute ‘amicably’ is to settle it their way, no matter how unreasonable, etc etc. You own your apartment and no matter how much they might threaten, they are breaking the law if they attempt to enter YOUR property without permission. In addition, your four walls ARE YOUR FOUR WALLS! What you do within them is of no concern to anyone else provided it doesn’t impinge on your neighbours or on the common property.

People who rent apartments who would like to keep a pet should be given the opportunity to have a private agreement with the owner of that apartment. Any ensuing dispute regarding irresponsible pet ownership could then be taken up with the owner.

Three cheers to people like RandomGnome in their attempt to lobby the government for democratic change. Even the states are becoming more enlightened in these matters. Having lived in many parts of the world I am stunned that a country like Australia is dragging its feet on the issue of pets who have proven time and time again their therapeutic benefits. Just take a dog for a walk around the block and see how many new friends you make! Do you think they would stop and give you the time of day if you weren’t walking your dog?

I thought we lived in one of the most democratic countries in the world. Scratch the surface and I’m no longer so sure. I think SnoopDog’s suggestion that we should lobby all our MLA’s(no matter what political persuasion) for change is a good one. Let’s face it, we’re not going to get anywhere by simply whingeing amongst ourselves and giving in to these people. They are allowed to “win” and feel that they are winning simply because we all lie down and let them! Support RandomGnome and STAND UP AND FIGHT!

RandomGnome 2:37 am 03 Jul 08

Sorry for the belated response – been a little busy since the weekend, including some lobbying efforts on this very issue. Thank you all for your responses and comments. It is very gratifying to see so many diverse insights and perspectives.

Bundybear – it is a sad truth that in today’s society we must resort to rules and regulations to resolve our differences rather than act as rational and reasonable citizens. Unfortunately Under the current legislation the rules are very heavily skewed towards those who wish to out rightly ban pets. That said, the amendments to the draft that are being proposed are neither pro nor anti pet. What the amendments that some of us including the RSPCA are seeking to introduce is allow for an equitable and transparent process which gives equal validity and weight to those who wish to have pets and those who may feel differently (for whatever reason) as well as improve and encourage animal welfare and responsible pet ownership. There are of course any number of flow on societal and economic benefits from such a process as well.

We can only hope that such rules also encourage us to be better neighbours as well.

flutterby – thank you for your question. At the moment a group of individuals and organisations have reviewed the draft act presented by ACTPLA and the Minister’s office. We have been making representations to a number of MLAs and other interested parties outlining our concerns. Whilst not all of these relate to pets, the keeping of pets is very much a central issue and one that is receiving special treatment. The basic thrust of the argument is for a more reasonable and transparent process which encourages responsible pet ownership, is inclusive of all opinions including those who may have issues with pets and ensure a balanced right of reply and independent arbitration for refusals by bodies corporate to keep pets. If anyone is interested in the exact details I would only be too happy to give you an email address to can write to get some more information. In addition I would strongly urge all interested Canberrans to contact their local members and use your democratic right to make your concerns and hopes known – regardless of what side of politics you may lean towards. I hope that all those who have read or contributed to this blog will feel encouraged by our efforts to date and help continue to build community support by talking to their members. For info, the new legislation will be debated and enacted in the August sitting.

SnoopDog – you will of course forgive me for seeking to protect the anonymity of the couple I am trying to help. If we are indeed talking about the same people then yes their cause goes beyond their immediate concerns and goes to the heart of many important social issues. I feel very honoured to help such people.

taiyaki – what I find most interesting is that most Canberrans own animals (70+ per cent of us in fact) and yet most apartment complexes do not allow pets. I think this is more a reflection of no real political activity to try and change the status quo rather than any inherent anti-pet bias. Based on your post, I assume you are looking for a place which welcomes pets. There are any number which I would be happy to forward to you if you like. That said, there is a serious issue you should be aware of – a body corporate under current legislation has the power to change the articles governing its policies towards pets. So even some of the newer (dare I say more enlightened) complexes around town which now allow pets cannot stop future body corporate members from changing these “house rules”. So there is no real certainty for pet owners. That said I would second SnoopDog’s suggestion that you also consider helping to lobby for change – just like the elderly couple I am helping. So in the longer run you and the rest of Canberra will have more choices and greater freedom. I do however wish you luck in your search and I reiterate my offer to help.

schmerica_ – I am deeply saddened (as I am sure others reading you post are) to hear that there are bodies corporate out there that would stoop to such petty and low actions. Whilst I do not own a pet myself currently, it is for people such as yourself and your friend that I started to lobby for change. For many pet owners, pets are a member of the family and there is no way a responsible pet owner is going to give up a family member easily. As I mentioned right at the beginning of this thread there is a increased urgency to this problem because pet as people are forced by circumstance to move to high and medium density living, they will in most cases be forced to give up their beloved pets. Higher interest rates and other factors are making this scenario more common. I would encourage you to make representations to your MLA or the Minister Andrew Barr between now and late August and express your views on this matter. Thank you again for sharing your story.

Sorry for the long post but hopefully I’d done some justice to all your comments and questions. And thank you to all who have shown so much support. Keep up the posts, every little bit helps.

schmerica_ 4:03 pm 02 Jul 08

A friend of mine just had to move out of his apartment due to him having a dog. He was not a renter, he actually owned his apartment. The dog was very well trained and only barked when provoked. The shades were drawn during the day, so there were no distractions and the owners were home at night.

One day, body corporate wandered the halls of this apartment building and knocked on every single door until they heard a dog bark. They then get a letter telling them to get rid of the dog. I would like to point out, that the dog is not a ‘yappy’ dog, nor is it a large loud barking dog, it was a small sausage dog.

My friend has since had to move back home and rent out his apartment because the Body Corporate are thugs.

I’ve just moved out of home and it broke my heart because I couldn’t take my puppy/dog with me. I’m just thankful my parents were easy going enough to allow her to stay with them. I wish there were more places that allowed house-trained pets.

Snoopdog 4:22 pm 01 Jul 08

Instead of wasting your precious time trying to identify the very few inner city apartments that are currently pet-friendly, can I suggest that you and other like-minded souls get onto your local member – irrespective of their political persuasion – and stir the dust on this issue? In that way MAYBE you’ll eventually have a greater choice of where you miught like to live.

taiyaki 4:08 pm 01 Jul 08

I’m constantly surprised by the strange attitude in Canberra towards keeping pets in apartments or townhouses.

I’ve lived in other cities where keeping a pet in an apartment is normal – here it seems bizarrely fraught. There are plenty of apartments we’ve looked at buying, but decided against when the inevitable ‘no pets’ allowed rule comes up.

I’d rather live in an apartment were my neighbours also have pets.

Anyhow, we’re in the market for an ‘inner-city’ apartment, so can enlighten me on what developments are pet-friendly. I never realised Velonia was, so that has just been added to my list. What other ones are there?

Snoopdog 9:21 am 01 Jul 08

I don’t know how the pollies could allow these reported amendments to the Unit Titles Legislation to go through as they are, given that so many of them have pets of their own – and some of the most well-known ones live in apartment complexes. I would have thought that they of all people would have some influence on the outcome of this review.

You mentioned that you had become involved in this issue to assist an elderly couple and their pets in their dispute with their Hitler-ish executive committee. I think I know these people. They are the most mild-mannered couple you could meet, and their pets are loved and cared for under pristine conditions. They are making a stand on this issue, not only for themselves, but for all those other apartment owners with pets who are too frightened to acknowledge their existence in case they run foul of draconian exec.ctees.

flutterby 10:49 pm 28 Jun 08

I agree with the above comments that responsible pet ownership is important. But why can’t responsible pet owners keep pets in their own homes (in this case apartments)? I like the idea of an independent body, like the RSPCA, monitoring suitable pets for apartments, rather than a blanket ban by a body corporate (which people flaunt anyway). At least this way, the keeping of pets in apartments would be regulated and people would be encouraged to be responsible for their choice to keep a pet. So, what can we do have the current, and obviously inadequate, legislation changed?

Bundybear 11:40 pm 27 Jun 08

I have no pets because I’m a pet lover, my place is too small and I’m away from it too much during the day. Many of my neighbours are pet owners who would do well to take the same stance – bored dogs bark a lot.

Sadly these sort of rules are made necessary by the selfishness and lack of consideration of the minority for the fact that they live in close proximity to their neighbours and their actions can have significant impact on others.

I know a complex with an open pet policy, and would suggest that the pet owners there are extremely responsible people who give no cause for complaint. Perhaps this is a reflection on the fact that they took the time and trouble to find a complex where their pets would be welcome – they probably take their impact on others into consideration with all their decisions.

In another complex there is a no pet policy which the executive have chosen not to enforce as long as the pets do not impact on the other residents. This mostly works fine, but what would you do about the 3 adult dogs (large breed)with 5 puppies in the 2 bedroom unit without some form of policy? These unit owners flout most of the other rules too, and at the end of the day will probably probably need a legal sanction to force any action.

In a bygone era, you’d have a chat with your neighbours about these sort of issues and reach a compromise, these days you need rules and policies and laws – bit sad really.

I’m a landlord, and have no problem with pets. As far as I’m concerned, if the units pass inspection and the rent is paid on time, I don’t have many problems at all. That said, I’m not going to bother going into bat against a body corporate for a tenant to have a pet.

RandomGnome 7:36 pm 27 Jun 08

IemaChet – thanks for the clarification – I agree with you it would be a very silly thing to do, even it were a by-law I’m just not sure how appropriate it is for ones neighbours to violate your private property. There is a certain social contract we make with various levels of government to act as appropriate to police our community however I don’t feel that the same can be said of the EC which is there to manage (as a commercial contract between owners) common property.

JonathonReynolds & VG – I happily respect the right of landlords to act (within the law of course) to maintain a profitable and sustainable lease. This of course includes pets or no pets – as per the Tenancy Act. So for renters it may well be a fact of life becuase it at the pegorative of the landlord.

However if I might point out the Unit Titles Act I was refering to at the beginning of this thread is aimed at owners. If an owner wishes to keep a pet and does so in a responsible manner on their own property, and if the apartment complex in question is an appropriate residence for the pet of their chosing then there should not be any impediment in the law. What is required are the regulations which encourage and enforce responsible pet ownership – rather than a blanket ban which covers everything from goldfish to komodo dragons. I guess I am arguing for a more equitable process in which a tyranny of the majority can not run riot over the consumer rights of owners.

I certainly would argue against any legislation which in effect makes apartment living (by owner occupiers) mutually exclusive with pet ownership which is pretty much the case we have under the 2001 legislation. As I mentioned before I am currently helping an elderly couple keep their dogs (little toy poodles) which are facing eviction. This couple are the owners of their apartment – their pets are their only form of security and companionship. Becuase of these pets they are kept out of our somewhat strained aged
care system. I think a social outcome is achieved by allowing them to keep their pets, which have caused no impact on any of their neighbours (most didn’t even know!).

Jonathon Reynolds 5:57 pm 27 Jun 08

vg said :

If I was a rental property owner I would protect my investment as best I could. This would include no pets and probably (depending on the people) no groups.


I have 2 indoor cats (Burmese). I am an owner/occupier in a separate title townhouse (there no body corporate).

… and before anyone mentions it the pictures of the cats on the cover of the Northside Chronicle this week are not mine, even though I was quoted about cat containment in the article…

I know what “damage” my animals do and can cause internally to my property… however it is my prerogative as I own own the place. As VG has indicated, as a landlord I would rent the place out on the basis of no pets.

lemaChet 5:00 pm 27 Jun 08

I didn’t say an EC should, or would enforce such a thing in that manner. It’d be pretty stupid to do so in honesty.. just that they could.
IF it was a registered by law.. not a house rule.

RandomGnome 4:19 pm 27 Jun 08

Astrojax – re your enquiry “about the supreme court of Victoria has briefly debated the legality of such bans under a legislation which is really designed to look after common property and not impinge on the private use of a lot.”

The case in question was called Morrish v Republic Tower Body Corporate Strata Plan No. 341293D [2004] VSC 56. The case itself was not related to pets per se, but it did raise the more general question about the validity of body corporate rules to impinge on private property rights. The discussion did not lead to a legal ruling but suggested that perhaps such body corporate rules were in fact invaild or ultra vires i.e beyond the scope of the law.

I’ve tried (and continue to try) to make this point to the ACT Government. There are better ways to handle this matter without impinging on anyone’s rights either to have a pet or to have their concerns about a particular pet known and corrected.

lemaChet – one of the UTA rules I really resent is the supposed ability of BC members to go into a private property to rectify a breach. It effectively negates private ownership conventions. If the breach is of such a nature i.e structural integreity then I suppose there is some lattitude of this. However to remove a pets – the BC members are not qualified for that type of activity and will only add to the disquiet within the complex. Such things are far better policed by ACT authorities and there are better laws than the UTA to do so e.g noise control, animal welfare etc. The UTA should be limited to common property issues. Landlord rights are protected by the Tenancy act.

Interestingly no one actually polices the actions of body corporates. ACTPLA claims not to get involved beyond simple registrations. Basically Canberra has a peice of legislation which affects a good number of us and has no proper governance.

vg 4:18 pm 27 Jun 08

If I was a rental property owner I would protect my investment as best I could. This would include no pets and probably (depending on the people) no groups. It is the right of the owner to protect their investment as best as they can. If you have pets and would like to rent, subject to conditions such as the above, then you have to make a decision. Yes, that is sad etc etc but that is contemporary life.

Now before everyone gets all antsy about that I have 2 dogs. I have them here at my current house as well as at my previous one. I own(ed) those houses and they were free from body corporate restrictions. Prior to that I rented for a long time. As much as I would have liked to, I couldn’t have pets. Thats just life.

astrojax 3:35 pm 27 Jun 08

one for each child?

…sorry… 😉

RandomGnome 1:00 pm 27 Jun 08

Sounds like she’s taking ACT housing generosity a bit far. 5 aviaries – don’t you need a permit for that kind of large scale operation?

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