Can Body Corporate Refuse Pets?

In Australia, a nation known for its love of animals, pet ownership continues to surge. This trend is mirrored globally, with over a billion pets enriching the lives of their humans. But can this love for furry (or feathered) companions extend to shared living arrangements governed by owners corporations?

The inaugural Victorian Pet Census, conducted in July 2023, revealed that approximately 1.4 million households in Victoria revel in the companionship of a pet. Yet, this bond between humans and their animal companions is often subject to the intricate web of rules set forth by owners corporations, as stipulated in the Owners Corporation Act 2006 (the ‘Act’).

Let’s learn the legalities and practicalities of keeping pets in strata living, helping you understand your rights and responsibilities under the Act.

The Dynamics of Owners Corporation Living

Imagine your apartment building, commercial, retail, industrial, or mixed-use property that is subdivided into units or lots as a bustling little village. You have your private area, but there are common or shared spaces like hallways, gardens, pools, lifts, gyms, and other facilities that require regular maintenance and occasional repairs.

This is where the concept of a body corporate (now called an owners corporation under the Owners Corporations Act 2006) comes in. Think of them as a village council that legally represents all the owners in the building. The Act sets the framework for this council’s (or Committee’s) operation, ensuring everyone enjoys a peaceful and well-maintained living environment.

The Power of OC Rules

OC Rules by the Act are a set of rules that govern the behavior of residents within a owners corporation community. OC Rules are fundamentally designed to ensure that all residents can enjoy their homes and shared spaces without undue disturbance or inconvenience.

OC Rules cover a wide range of issues, from the use of common property and noise control to the keeping of pets, and parking regulations. They provide a framework for acceptable behavior within the community, helping to prevent (or limit) disputes and conflicts among residents.

The process of developing OC Rules typically starts with the Owners Corporation Committee, or the OC manager taking the lead. They carefully consider the purpose, scope, and wording of each OC rule, ensuring it’s clear, concise, and aligns with (and does not go against) the Act.

OC Rules are and should be then discussed with owners at the owners corporation’s Annual General Meeting. The Act requires that any new OC rules, or changes to existing OC Rules be approved by a Special Resolution of 75% of all owners within the Owners Corporation.

Key Considerations When Drafting OC Rules

  • Existing OC Rules: Victoria mandates consolidated OC Rules to be recorded with the plan of subdivision. This might involve reviewing and potentially revoking layers of existing rules accumulated over time.
  • Communication and Grievances: A clear communication and grievance procedure should be established within the OC Rules to address any concerns residents may have.
  • Fairness and Legality: OC Rules cannot be discriminatory or contradict existing laws or regulations. They must be for the “control, management, administration, use or enjoyment of common property or of a lot.”
  • Model Rules as a Guide: The Owners Corporations Regulations 2018 provide a set of model rules that can be a valuable resource when drafting new OC Rules. Owners Corporations can either adopt these model rules or create their own, ensuring they don’t conflict with the model rule headings.

Once an OC Rule is in place, it is the responsibility of the owners corporation to enforce it. This can involve issuing notices to comply with the OC Rule, imposing penalties for breaches of an OC Rule, and even taking legal action if necessary.

Legal Considerations

The Act itself doesn’t explicitly ban pets – however it empowers Owners Corporations to develop OC Rules that may regulate some elements of pet ownership in their buildings. These OC Rules must comply with the OC Regulations, which promote the lawful use and enjoyment of common property by all residents.

In the 2019 case of Owners Corporation SP13333 v Nguyen (VCAT), a complete ban on pets was ruled as unreasonable. VCAT stressed the importance of a nuanced perspective, taking into account aspects such as the pet’s size, type, and behavior when enforcing any limitations.

Under the Owners Corporations Regulations 2018, particularly section 4 regarding the use of common property, there are clear stipulations that impact pet ownership:

  • Respecting Others’ Use: Subrule 4.1(1) states that no owner or occupier should obstruct the lawful use of common property by others. This applies to pets as well. Excessive barking, aggressive behaviour, or roaming pets can certainly disrupt the peace and enjoyment of others using common areas.
  • Addressing Nuisance Pets: Subrule 4.1(4) empowers the owners corporation  to address nuisance pets. If an animal is deemed a danger or creates a nuisance, the owners corporation  can issue a notice requiring the owner to remove it unless it assists a person with an impairment or disability as stated in Subrule 4.1(6).  This highlights the importance of responsible pet ownership.
  • Focus on Behaviour, Not Breed: The Regulations don’t endorse breed-specific restrictions. A well-behaved Doberman Pinscher might be a better neighbor than a rambunctious Chihuahua!  The focus should be on ensuring pet behavior doesn’t cause a nuisance.

Reasons Owners Corporation Can Refuse Pets

While owners corporations in Victoria can’t outright ban pets under the Act, there are situations where they can have a say. Here are some legitimate reasons owners corporations may have concerns that may lead to the refusal of pets in shared living spaces, and how these concerns are communicated to residents:

  • Noise: Persistent barking or other pet noises can disrupt the peace of a community.
  • Safety: Pets that are aggressive or poorly supervised can pose a safety risk.
  • Allergies: Residents may have allergies that are exacerbated by animals.
  • Damage: Pets can potentially cause damage to common property or individual lots.
  • Hygiene: Inadequate pet waste management can lead to hygiene issues.

Communication of Policies

Clear and effective communication is essential to ensure that residents are fully informed about the pet policies established by the owners corporation. These policies are typically disseminated through the following channels:

  • Written Documentation: Residents receive comprehensive written materials detailing the pet policies, which may include OC rules, guidelines, and any updates to the regulations.
  • Meetings and Notices: Regularly scheduled meetings provide a platform for discussing pet policies, and official notices are posted in common areas or distributed to keep residents abreast of any changes.
  • Direct Correspondence: Personalised correspondence, such as letters or emails, may be sent to all residents and owners, particularly when addressing specific inquiries or concerns regarding pet ownership.

Owners Corporation Balancing Act – Residents’ Rights vs. Community Harmony

The well-being of the community hinges on this delicate balance. Individual rights are the bedrock of personal freedom and autonomy, allowing residents to feel secure in their homes and investments. Conversely, community harmony ensures that the collective interests of the community are met, promoting a sense of belonging and mutual respect among residents.

Imagine a situation where a resident gets a large, energetic dog in a small apartment. While the resident enjoys their furry companion, the constant barking and potential damage to the property could disrupt the peace and enjoyment of other residents. This scenario highlights the need for a balanced approach.

The OC Act recognises this need.  While it empowers residents to own pets, it also allows owners corporation to create OC Rules that ensure responsible pet ownership and a peaceful living environment for all.

Strategies for Compromise and Conflict Resolution

Finding common ground is key to a harmonious owners corporation community. Here are some strategies to foster compromise and conflict resolution:

  • Regular communication between residents and the owners corporation Committee is crucial. Open forums, surveys, and clear OC Rules all contribute to a more informed and collaborative environment.
  • Regularly reviewing and updating OC rules ensures they remain fair and relevant to current community standards.
  • Focus on Solutions, not Just Restrictions: Instead of simply outlining limitations on pet ownership, OC Rules can offer solutions. For example, designating pet exercise areas or outlining a pet approval process that considers factors like breed size and temperament can address concerns while accommodating responsible pet owners.
  • Mediation and Dispute Resolution Services: The Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) offers mediation services to help resolve owners corporation disputes. This can be a valuable tool to find solutions that address individual needs while upholding community well-being.

By achieving a balance between individual rights and community harmony, owners corporation communities can create a more vibrant and enjoyable living environment for all residents, pet owners, and non-pet owners alike.

Pet-Friendly Alternatives

Finding a balance between responsible pet ownership and a peaceful community doesn’t mean sacrificing one for the other. Embracing pets within a owners corporation framework can create a more vibrant and engaging living environment.

Successful Pet-Friendly Policies

  • Reasonable Limitations on Pet Numbers: Most local Councils in Melbourne have policies that limit the number of animals per household that can be kept without needing to apply to the Council for an additional animal permit.

For example, the City of Monash council has this policy which sets out the following animal limits:

    • Dogs – limit of 2
    • Cats – limit of 2
    • Guinea pigs – limit of 8
    • Mice – limit of 8
    • Rabbits – limit of 5
    • Pigeons – limit of 10 but interestingly up to 60 if they’re racing pigeons…
What’s the difference between a pigeon and a racing pigeon? Presumably speed, diet, training regime, and dedication.
  • Pet Registration: Requiring pets to be registered with the owners corporation helps maintain a record and ensures responsible pet ownership.
  • Common Property Interaction: Setting guidelines for pets on common property, such as leash requirements, helps prevent nuisance and ensures safety.
  • Designated Pet Areas: Allocating specific areas for dog walking and playtime allows pet owners to socialise their animals while respecting the needs of non-pet owners. Clear signage and waste disposal stations are essential in these areas.
  • Pet Meet-and-Greets: Organising social events focused on pets can be a great way to build connections between residents and foster a sense of community.

Embracing pets can increase residents’ social interactions, fostering a sense of community. Pet-friendly areas, such as dog parks within the property, encourage residents to come together, share experiences, and build relationships.

The presence of pets has been shown to improve mental health and provide emotional support, contributing to overall life satisfaction. In Victoria, a significant percentage of the population owns pets, with many reporting that companionship and love are the top benefits of pet ownership. By accommodating pets, owners corporation communities can enhance the well-being of their residents, leading to higher satisfaction levels and a more vibrant community life.

Navigating the Pet Approval Process

If you’ve found the perfect pet companion to brighten your days, hold on a minute – living in a owners corporation community means taking one additional step before welcoming your new friend home. Don’t worry, it’s not a hurdle, just a small hoop to jump through!

The process for seeking approval for pet ownership within a owners corporation is usually straightforward and may slightly vary depending on your owners corporation’s OC Rules. However, here’s a general outline:

  • Start by thoroughly reading your owners corporation’s OC Rules. These will outline permissible pet types, any size or breed restrictions, and application procedures.
  • Many owners corporations have a designated pet application form. This typically gathers information on the pet’s species, breed (if applicable), size, age, and any relevant training or vaccination records.
  • Once completed, submit the application to the owners corporation Committee or designated manager, along with any required documentation.
  • The Committee will review your application based on the OC Rules and may contact you for further information.
  • You’ll be notified of the decision (approval or denial) within a reasonable timeframe.

Tips for a Smooth Process:

  • Gather all required documentation like vaccination records and proof of training (if applicable) beforehand.
  • Be upfront about your pet’s breed, size, and temperament.
  • If there are any concerns raised by the Committee, be open to discussing solutions or providing additional information.
  • The approval process ensures responsible pet ownership and a harmonious community. Be patient and respectful throughout the process.

Additional Considerations:

  • Pet Insurance: While not always mandatory, considering pet insurance can demonstrate responsible ownership.
  • References from Previous Landlords: If you’ve owned pets before, obtaining positive references from previous landlords regarding pet behavior can be helpful.

By following these steps and keeping communication open, you can increase your chances of a successful pet approval process. Remember, a positive and responsible approach goes a long way in fostering a pet-friendly community spirit.

Conclusion

As we’ve examined the complexities of pet ownership in owners corporation communities, it’s evident that, while pets are cherished members of many Victorian homes, their presence must be balanced with laws, open communication, and collaboration aimed to preserve communal peace.

We encourage all residents to actively participate in owners corporation meetings, read and understand the OC Rules, and to be responsible pet owners. Owners corporations can create clear, fair OC Rules that focus on pet behavior rather than breed restrictions.  Committees should consider solutions like designated pet areas if their building allows for it and streamlining clear approval processes.

By working together, owners corporations can establish pet-friendly policies that enrich the lives of residents, pet owners, and non-pet owners alike. This fosters a sense of community and creates a more vibrant living environment for everyone.

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If your owners corporation management company isn’t guiding your Committee on how best to manage pets in your building, feel free to get in touch with us. Our approachable and knowledgeable team is ready to address all your inquiries. Email us at office@strataconsultants.com.au or reach out to us on 1300 917 848.

 

The contents of this article or website are only intended to provide a general overview of the topics discussed. The author of this article makes no representations as to the accuracy or completeness of any information and the information is not intended to constitute investment, legal or professional advice. You should seek professional advice before acting or relying on any of the content. This article does not contain references to any specific company, organisation or individual, unless expressly specified.
Posted
November 01, 2023
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