Life in a residential complex comes with many benefits – hence the increasing demand for apartments and security estates – but it also means sacrificing some of the freedom of choice you would enjoy if you were entirely on your own.
For example, pet ownership is often a contentious topic in community schemes, so in the common interest it’s likely to be regulated by the scheme’s Conduct Rules.
Read on for some ideas on how to establish what your legal rights are, with advice for trustees, buyers, sellers and agents on how to avoid dispute and disappointment in the first place. We end off with a note on how to settle any disputes that do arise…
“I never married because there was no need. I have three pets at home which answer the same purpose as a husband. I have a dog which growls every morning, a parrot which swears all afternoon, and a cat that comes home late at night” (Marie Corelli, English novelist)
Residential complexes and estates are becoming more and more popular for the many advantages they provide. Remember however that – in everyone’s interests – they also come with restrictions on your freedom to use and enjoy your property, and that you bind yourself to whatever Conduct Rules apply in your community scheme.
One of those restrictions is likely to be your right to keep a pet, and that’s a topic that can be a source of much conflict and unhappiness.
Residents tend to fall into one of three camps –
“I really need to have my little dog/cat/parrot/lizard living with me”
“I simply cannot handle any more of that parrot-screeching/lapdog-yapping/midnight-cat-yowling – it has to go!” or
“Pets – don’t need them myself but hey, fine so long as they don’t cause me any trouble”.
Regardless of which category you fall into, it’s important to understand before you move into any form of residential complex whether or not you and other residents are allowed to keep pets, and to obtain any necessary prior authority to do so.
Sellers, buyers and estate agents would do well to address this specifically in sale agreements to avoid disappointment and dispute down the line.
Sectional title schemes
Your Body Corporate has the right to impose limits on pet ownership. It can for example prohibit pets altogether, or it can impose limits on the number of pets allowed, types of pet, breeds or sizes allowed, access to common areas, noise-control, replacement on the pet’s death and so on. Trustees should take care here to define clearly what is allowed and what isn’t. Are only dogs banned or also cats and cage birds? What about pet pigs? Guide dogs? Hamsters? Pet snakes? Goldfish? The more detail the better.
You need to find out exactly what rules apply in your particular complex, but the standard “Prescribed Conduct Rule” below will be in force unless your Body Corporate has amended it. This Rule reads –
“Keeping of animals, reptiles and birds
The owner or occupier of a section must not, without the trustees’ written consent, which must not be unreasonably withheld, keep an animal, reptile or bird in a section or on the common property.
An owner or occupier suffering from a disability and who reasonably requires a guide, hearing or assistance dog must be considered to have the trustees’ consent to keep that animal in a section and to accompany it on the common property.
The trustees may provide for any reasonable condition in regard to the keeping of an animal, reptile or bird in a section or on the common property.
The trustees may withdraw any consent if the owner or occupier of a section breaches any condition imposed in terms of sub-rule (3).”
Note that where this Prescribed Rule applies unamended, the body corporate is specifically required to act “reasonably” in all the circumstances of each matter. That entails a delicate balancing act between the competing rights of pet-owning residents and their neighbours, which means grey areas and fertile ground for dispute.
Hence the advice to get clarity on your rights before buying into a complex.
Home Owners Associations (HOAs)
HOAs have similar rights to restrict the keeping of pets, but no “Prescribed Rules” apply as they do with sectional title and their powers will depend on whatever founding documentation underlies them. HOAs normally govern free-standing estate houses rather than apartments and so are perhaps more likely to be pet-friendly but again, find out what the complex’s Rules say before you buy.
Trustees barking up the wrong tree? Polly ruffling feathers? The ADR alternative
If you find yourself embroiled in a dispute with your body corporate/HOA or a fellow resident or owner, first prize will of course always be a chat over a friendly cup of coffee to find common ground and a win-win outcome.
If that fails, the (relatively) new Community Schemes Ombud Service provides an alternate dispute resolution (ADR) service designed to assist with just this sort of situation. Ask your lawyer for help in any doubt.