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‘The owner of such a dog must pro­vide ev­i­dence of a dis­abil­ity’

IT’S billed as a more se­cure and a more com­mu­nal way of life, of­fer­ing the best of both worlds: the use of com­mu­nal fa­cil­i­ties (such as swim­ming pools, club­houses and some­times even gyms, restau­rants and shops); safety in num­bers; fewer main­te­nance is­sues and fixed man­age­ment-costs.

Sec­tional ti­tle liv­ing, be it in flats, town­houses or semi-de­tached houses, is viewed by many as the an­swer to the global trend of shrink­ing house and prop­erty sizes.

How­ever, liv­ing in close quar­ters with strangers comes with draw­backs – one of the most emo­tive fac­tors is the keep­ing of pets.

The new rules make spe­cial pro­vi­sions for keep­ing as­sis­tance dogs, which trustees are only al­lowed to with­draw if the an­i­mals be­come prob­lem­atic.

But while some com­plexes have strict rules gov­ern­ing pet-keep­ing, oth­ers are loath to act against in­fringe­ments, leav­ing it up to res­i­dents to re­solve ten­sion – which of­ten adds fuel to the fire.

But an in­ces­sant barker; a stink­ing, bur­geon­ing pot-belly pig; a way­ward spray­ing cat; or screech­ing birds can cause ten­sion be­tween the best of neigh­bours.

The is­sue of pet-keep­ing was re­cently raised by a reader, Liz (sur­name with­held), who mailed me about her neigh­bour’s cooped-up dogs.

“My neigh­bours have four dogs which are kept in a small space next door. The dogs bark all day and at any move­ment in the street, as they are left alone. The own­ers work.

“I work from home and this is caus­ing me a lot of stress with the con­tin­ual bark­ing, which is an­noy­ing and dis­turb­ing our sub­urb.

“I have spo­ken to the own­ers and they say the dogs are there for pro­tec­tion, they are not at home all day, there­fore are not aware of the dis­tur­bance and it does not af­fect them.”

Since the dis­tressed an­i­mals are dis­turb­ing the peace and the neigh­bours are do­ing noth­ing about it, Liz could call the metro po­lice and even the SPCA. If she lived in a sec­tional ti­tle unit, she could com­plain to the body cor­po­rate.

If that fails, there’s al­ways the newly ap­pointed Com­mu­nity Schemes Om­bud Ser­vice (CSOS), which of­fers a dis­pute res­o­lu­tion ser­vice for com­mu­nity schemes and is em­pow­ered to make an ad­ju­di­ca­tion award, tan­ta­mount to a high court or­der.

BBM Law sec­tional ti­tle spe­cial­ist, Marina Con­stas, says keep­ing pets in sec­tional ti­tle com­plexes is “never a walk in the park”. She be­lieves there are many rea­sons that this emo­tive is­sue has re­tained its num­ber one spot as the first rule in the model con­duct rules out­lined in the new sec­tional ti­tle leg­is­la­tion.

The new amend­ment to the Sec­tional Ti­tles Schemes Man­age­ment Act of 2011 makes pro­vi­sion for ser­vice dogs – guide, hear­ing and as­sis­tance.

“The model rules say that you need trustee per­mis­sion to keep pets – but the trustees have to give it proper con­sid­er­a­tion. They can with­draw per­mis­sion if the pet be­comes a nui­sance though. A lot of schemes have amended the rules, say­ing no pets at all but they need to go through the om­bud to get a com­pli­ance cer­tifi­cate.

“It has never sur­prised me that the keep­ing of an­i­mals, rep­tiles and birds is the first rule in the Model Con­duct Rules of a Sec­tional Ti­tle Scheme. In the new leg­is­la­tion, this rule has re­tained its num­ber one po­si­tion. In my ex­pe­ri­ence, this is jus­ti­fied by the num­ber of pet-re­lated dis­putes in the in­dus­try and the amount of time, en­ergy and le­gal fees that pet own­ers and bod­ies cor­po­rate are pre­pared to spend in fight­ing cases in­volv­ing either re­tain­ing or re­mov­ing a pet.”

Con­stas ex­plains that for those liv­ing in a sec­tional ti­tle scheme, there are cer­tain new rules to be read to­gether with this act, and that own­ers and res­i­dents must abide by these.

“If the sec­tional ti­tle scheme falls un­der the new ‘An­nex­ure 2 Model Con­duct Rules’, then own­ers or oc­cu­piers must have the trustees’ writ­ten con­sent to keep a pet. The trustees are not al­lowed to un­rea­son­ably with­hold con­sent.

“This means that they must put their minds to the var­i­ous cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the re­quest; they need to con­sider the best in­ter­ests of the scheme and the prej­u­dice, if any, that own­ers would suf­fer com­pared to the in­ter­ests of the prospec­tive pet owner.”

Con­stas cites re­cent cases whereby trustees tried to re­move a beloved, quiet bull­dog from his 11-year-old com­pan­ion, de­spite the par­ents pro­vid­ing a psy­chi­a­trist’s report stat­ing that the dog helped the child deal with his anx­i­ety.

In another case, trustees were asked to con­sider grant­ing per­mis­sion for an owner to keep an el­derly Great Dane, who hardly ever moves dur­ing the day and has for­got­ten how to bark.

“These are the type of is­sues with which the trustees must grap­ple. Should they de­cide to al­low a pet into the scheme, the Model Rules also tell us that they will be al­lowed to pro­vide for any rea­son­able con­di­tion re­gard­ing the keep­ing of the pet. The trustees can with­draw their con­sent should any con­di­tions im­posed be breached.”

Un­der the new “Rule 1(2)”, Con­stas says trustees’ con­sent is con­sid­ered a given should any owner re­quire a guide dog, hear­ing dog or as­sis­tance dog.

“Ob­vi­ously, the owner of such a dog must pro­vide the trustees with ev­i­dence of a dis­abil­ity. In­ter­est­ingly, there has been an in­crease in di­a­betic alert dogs, which are dogs that are trained to alert their di­a­betic own­ers in ad­vance of low or high blood-sugar events be­fore they be­come dan­ger­ous.”

An owner who has ob­tained per­mis­sion to keep a pet in his or her town­house will find that this is not the end of their ef­forts, Con­stas cau­tions. “They must un­der­stand their re­cip­ro­cal obli­ga­tion. Apart from the var­i­ous con­di­tions which the trustees will ap­ply – for ex­am­ple, al­ways walk­ing dogs on leashes and hav­ing a poop scoop at the ready – the act stip­u­lates that pets should not cause any in­con­ve­nience to other own­ers.

“If an owner is breach­ing the rules and the act by either keep­ing a pet with­out per­mis­sion or hav­ing a nui­sance of a pet, there are a few op­tions avail­able to the body cor­po­rate,” she notes. “A court in­ter­dict can be ob­tained to com­pel the pet’s re­moval or both par­ties can agree to pri­vate ar­bi­tra­tion or the dis­pute can be re­ferred to the Com­mu­nity Schemes Om­bud Ser­vice.”

Con­stas says that if own­ers want a pet-free com­plex, it is pos­si­ble to draft a “no pets” clause in the com­plex rules, if the body cor­po­rate – which in­cludes all the own­ers – can give each a spe­cial res­o­lu­tion.

It’s an emo­tive is­sue but liv­ing in close quar­ters with oth­ers de­mands sac­ri­fices too. Con­stas says some peo­ple are try­ing to em­u­late a free­hold lifestyle, but are bring­ing in in­ap­pro­pri­ate an­i­mals.


‘WEL­COME’: In terms of the new laws, body cor­po­rates may not turn an as­sis­tance dog away, as long as it doesn’t dis­turb the other sec­tional ti­tle own­ers in a com­plex, says the writer.

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