Why it's important to PAWS for thought before buying into a Strata Complex if you plan on bringing a pet.
Australian cities are growing, and affordable housing is hard to find. Whether you're a renter or a buyer, the real estate market has seen a lack of stock and surging prices across the board, meaning Strata properties are becoming even more popular than ever.
A recent Courier Mail article identified that "for many, a unit in a strata scheme is likely the only financially viable option when it comes to homeownership or an affordable rental." This means that those purchasing a unit in a Strata or Community Complex may be first-time homeowners, downsizing or those simply taking advantage of the current seller's market.
Beyond the regular contractual obligations, you might immediately notice in your contracts, that there are often rules specific to your Strata or some rules you don't think about until your purchase has gone through. Typical amongst those rules are ones pertaining to pets. Whether you have a furry family member already or might decide to get one down the track, many owners don't think to find out whether they can have a pet in their new Strata home.
A Strata Title complex is typically built before 2009; after that, all new unit complexes were lodged under the Community Titles Act. There are also some developments built prior to 2009 that were also registered as a Community.
The Strata Titles Act states, "Subject to the Strata Titles Act 1988, a person bound by these articles must not, without the strata corporation's consent, keep any animal in, or in the vicinity of, a unit" meaning that you must receive approval to keep an animal on your property.
If you are buying into a Community Title, the Act is silent on pets, and you will need to refer to the bylaws of the particular Corporation into which you are buying. Most Community Titles will have bylaws that state that there are no pets, that owners must seek approval, or that says pets are allowed. If pets are allowed, it is usually one cat or dog, or two cats or dogs and may have restrictions. If there are no restrictions in the bylaws, you are free to have a pet without approval.
In some Strata Corporations, owners may have in the past agreed to a blanket approval, whereas past resolutions state that owners may have one or two pets. Sometimes there will be conditions placed on the housing of these pets. For instance, cats may be required to be desexed, and dogs may have to be on their lead at all times. There may even be weight restrictions to ensure that the complex is not full of large dogs.
Other complexes may repeatedly deny appeals to keep animals despite multiple requests from multiple units.
At Horner Management, we have several complexes with a no pet policy and this position is recorded in the Minutes. While we advise the Corporation that they need to consider each pet request on its merit and allow a vote to occur, we also record in the minutes that owners of the Corporation remind residents of the strict no pet policy.
With COVID and a change in the housing market, many new owners are entering unit complexes for the first time, so contact agents and Strata Managers to ask if they can have a pet in their new apartment, townhouse or unit. Horner Management has seen a rise in calls from prospective purchasers us asking if they can have a dog or how they might seek approval in accordance with the Strata Titles Act or the Community Bylaws.
Horner Management CEO and partner Carrie McInerney can attest that she has witnessed instances where Corporation owners want to keep the property pet free and have regular conversations around this at meetings across her twenty plus years in Strata.
"This means the feelings of the Corporation are well documented, and while this may change over the years with new owners coming into the complex, we do find that most complexes that are pet-free tend to remain pet-free."
When considering a property, prospective purchasers should see any documents pertaining to pet ownership in a complex.
"Often though, prospective purchasers think they can change the mind of owners," says Carrie, "or in the worst-case scenario, purchasers
move in, bring their beloved pet and then hope the other owners will simply allow them to keep the pet. I am sure you can imagine that this does not usually go very well and disrupts the harmony and future relationships that make living in a group of units enjoyable."
CASE STUDY: The Secret Life of Pets
A case study on why sneaking your pets into your unit or trying to change other owner's minds is outlined in this cautionary tale that Horner Management's CEO Carrie recalls:
"We had a situation many years ago where a prospective purchaser knocked on all the doors of the units with their dog before purchasing the unit, asking owners if they could keep the dog at the property."
Despite the owners telling the purchaser that they did not welcome pets at the complex, they still purchased the unit and brought the dog with them.
"This upset the other owners in the complex. The new owners thought that as it was a courtyard home and they had a street front unit, they would be able to prove that the dog was not going to cause any issues," Carrie explains.
"The dog was old and had been a family pet for years. Nevertheless, the current owners were a little taken aback as they had been clear that the Corporation was not in favour of pets at the property."
Unfortunately, the majority of unit owners felt so strongly about not having pets at the complex that after trying to deal with the issue, they decided to commence an action against the new owners in the Magistrate Courts for breaching the Act.
"In the documents filed with the Magistrates Court, the Owners Corporation presented many sets of minutes, ones included in the Section 41, a pack which the purchasers would have received before signing a contract," continues Carrie. "These minutes made it very clear that all owners were strongly against having pets at the complex."
At the Directions Hearing - an initial meeting with the courts - the owners of
the Corporation told the Magistrate that
they bought into the Group because they liked the idea of living in a pet-free complex. They didn't like the idea of living in such proximity to other units that may bring a pet onto the property.
"While many of us at Horner Management love pets, we also understand that not everyone does, which is a decision that needs to be respected by all, especially those who buy into a complex with a no pet policy."
The Magistrate told the new owners that they had bought the unit, knowing full well that owners would not approve the dog, and even after having a formal vote fail, they still purchased the unit expecting the dog would live with them. Therefore, the new owner was ordered to have the dog removed from the complex.
"Naturally, this was very distressing for the new owner, who had to have the dog relocated," says Carrie. "The relationship between the new owner and existing owners was never repaired, and living in a small complex was not enjoyable for the next few years. "
"Recently, the same owner put their unit up for sale by auction, and we received a number of calls from prospective purchasers once again asking if they could have a pet. The owners had not advised the sales agent that the Corporation was firmly against pets
within the complex," explains Carrie.
"While we were happy to take these calls and explain to the prospective purchasers that it was highly unlikely any requests to have a pet would be approved, many of those enquiring with us felt that it was up to us to make the decision, pleading with us to change the rules."
Many of these prospective owners misunderstood that the team at Horner Management doesn't have the authority to change the rules of any Corporation it manages. Nor is it possible to request that they get approval quickly by just simply emailing owners. This is not in line with the Act.
"Some even asked what would happen if they just bought the dog anyway," laughs Carrie, "The cycle continues."
Don’t step in do-do
This case study is just one example of why it is essential to research into the complex into which you are planning to buy. It's crucial also to consider the position of residents and owners already living in the complex and to respect past decisions made by the Corporation.
While we may love our furry friends (or not so furry), not everyone shares the same love for them. If you are looking to buy a unit, and the unit appears to be perfect for you, but the Corporation h
as a strong no pet policy, it is highly unlikely that they will fall in love with your pet and change their mind. It may be that the unit you have fallen in love with is not that perfect for you after all.
Once, twice, sold to the pet owners.
Auctions are the current most popular form of sale, and in this type of sale, the purchasers do not have the option to sign a contract 'subject to', so having a response about pet ownership before the auction date is very important.
"At the moment, we are seeing many auction campaigns only being two to three weeks long, which does not give prospective purchasers much time to seek approval for a pet," says Carrie.
For prospective purchasers to receive approval for a pet from the Corporation, a meeting must be called, giving owners at least 14 days' notice. While it is possible for the Committee to provide the prospective purchaser approval in a much shorter time, many Corporations limit their Committee's power to ensure that pet approval must be put forward to all owners.
Of course, there are situations where Corporations cannot deny pets at the property.
The Strata Titles Act and Community Titles Act both state that a Corporation or Bylaw cannot prevent an occupier of a unit who has a disability from keeping a relevant animal at the unit. They also cannot restrict the use of a service animal by the occupier if the animal is trained to assist the occupier in respect of the disability.
"In terms of these Acts," explains Carrie, "a relevant animal has the same meaning as a therapeutic or assistance animal in the Equal Opportunity Act 1984."
That is, according to the Equal Opportunity Act 1984, an animal is "(a) a dog that is an accredited assistance dog under the Dog and Cat Management Act 1995; or (b) an animal of a class prescribed by regulation."
While requests for pets under this section of the Equal Opportunity Act should not be challenged, there are sometimes cases where owners seek to bend this definition in order to keep a pet.
The most common case, says Carrie, is when owners state they need their dog for a companion. An application to the Corporation is usually accompanied by a doctor's note that says the new unit owner requires a dog as a companion. The dog is not specially trained, and the owner is not diagnosed with a disability.
"In a couple of cases, we have seen owners claim their dog is a companion only to find the dog is often left home alone and becomes distressed, which causes distress for neighbouring unit owners," explains Carrie.
"I have witnessed cases where Corporations have taken owners to the Magistrates Court claiming the dog does not fall under the Equal Opportunity Act. In these cases where there is no evidence or even a simple doctor's note, the Magistrate has agreed and ordered that the dog be removed from the complex, again putting more distress on the unit owner."
There are, of course, cases where this has happened, and an owner was able to clearly
show their companion pet was necessary and are then approved by owners and Magistrates. In these cases, applications are generally accompanied by a letter confirming the dog is trained and a medical document detailing the issues.
If you do have a genuine reason for needing an assistance animal, the advice from Horner Management is to ensure you have the required evidence of this to avoid any conflict between parties. If you are doing the right thing, there should be no issues, but you may be asked to verify your position because others have sought to bend the rules in the past.
Strata is perhaps a more viable option for many, but before buying into a unit or apartment complex, it's essential to know the
rules behind the Corporation you are looking to
purchase, as well as the general rules of a Strata Title or Community Title.
Horner Management is a multi-award-winning strata management company based in Adelaide and covering Body Corporate, Community and Strata Title plus Property Management.