Two of Sydney's largest apartment towers ban residents from bringing pets into building

A significant new ruling by the tribunal overseeing strata corporation bylaws has ruled that strata committees have the power to ban pets from their building, overturning the previous position that pets should be allowed.

The NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal ruled on 27 May 2020 that the residents in two of Sydney's largest apartment towers can, through strata committee by-laws, ban every resident from bringing a pet into the building. (See The Owners - Strata Plan No 55773 v Roden; Spiers v The Owners - Strata Plan No 77953 [2020] NSWCATAP 95.)

The case was brought before three senior members of the tribunal, including the president and deputy president, on appeal by the strata committees after they lost earlier cases seeking the pet ban.

The decision is highly significant for anyone considering moving into an apartment block.

Strata corporation bylaws can impose limits on how you live inside your home

This decision on pets highlights the importance for anyone thinking about buying or renting an apartment to examine the strata bylaws carefully.

It confirms strata committees can ban people from having pets in their homes. It also means strata bylaws can limit other aspects of how you live inside your home, including smoking, overcrowding, parties, short term letting, balcony barbecues or hanging out washing.

The tribunal's ruling demonstrates that despite the much promised "pet friendly" changes to strata legislation, pets are still not automatically permitted in strata schemes.

Is the bylaw "harsh, unconscionable or oppressive"?

Section 139 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 says a bylaw "must not be harsh, unconscionable or oppressive". Children can't be banned, nor can assistance animals.

Section 157 and section 158 say the owners corporation cannot "unreasonably withhold consent to keeping an animal", but if the animal causes a nuisance or hazard, it can be removed.

The tribunal said these sections support the view that a bylaw prohibiting the keeping of animals is permissible and is not harsh, unconscionable or oppressive.

Tribunal's decision upholds majority vote by apartment owners

While the apartment tower battle was over dogs, the dog supporters pointed out the bylaws can also apply to goldfish and even live oysters brought home for dinner.

Supporters of the pet ban hailed the tribunal's decision as a victory for democracy, as 81 per cent of apartment owners voted for the ban.

Pet owners should obtain written consent from owners prior to exchange of contracts

It would be wise to get legal advice before you start investing your money in a home covered by a strata scheme, to make sure you are aware of all the bylaws that will have an effect on your happiness living there, no matter how attractive the apartment might appear.

When I am acting for a purchaser who wants to take their pet into a strata scheme, it is always my practice to obtain written consent from the owners via the strata manager, prior to exchange of contracts, to avoid situations like the one described here, as well as any conflict with other unit owners within the complex.

Merrill Phillips
Stacks Law Firm

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