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Pet-friendly problems for landlords, owners and strata managers

Woman working from home alongside dog.
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Working from home over the pandemic has given many Australians more time to bond with their pets and caused a shift in homebuying habits. Photo: Shutterstock

Pet-friendly problems for landlords, owners and strata managers

Pets in apartments have become a prickly proposition for landlords, owner-occupiers and strata managers, as demand for properties allowing pets increases in both sales and rental markets, and a recent landmark court ruling causes confusion over the validity of pet bans.

Pets in apartments have become a prickly proposition for landlords, owner-occupiers and strata managers, as demand for properties allowing pets increases in both sales and rental markets, and a recent landmark court ruling causes confusion over the validity of pet bans.

Puppy prices have soared since the pandemic as overall demand for pets has skyrocketed.

Workers with more time at home, returning expats wanting a family pet, and many young couples even replacing children with pets as they save for their future, are fuelling greater demand for rental properties that allow furry tenants.

Buyers are also increasingly seeking pet-friendly buildings, according to Mary-Jane Hamer, urban living specialist at leading real estate agency Ray White Lower North Shore Group.

Ms Hamer said approval for furry or feathered friends was a must-have for buyers on Sydney’s North Shore, with apartments buildings that don’t allow pets attracting far less demand than those that do.

But while the option for landlords to allow pets or not, or for owner occupiers to bring a pet into their apartment, may seem a straight-forward proposition depending on the individual strata rules, a recent NSW court ruling on the subject has caused much confusion and consternation.

At the centre of the ruling was Angus, a miniature schnauzer living in the Horizon building in Sydney’s eastern suburbs, even though the owners knew the building had a no-pet policy.

Last year, Angus’ owner took her strata building to the NSW Court of Appeal, and in a unanimous ruling in October, the highest court in the state struck down the ban and explained why the strata’s bylaw barring pets was oppressive. 

“It prohibits an ordinary incident of the ownership of real property, namely, keeping a pet animal, and provides no material benefit to other occupiers,” the court stated.  

A bylaw that limits the property rights of lot owners is “only lawful (valid)”, the court noted, “if it protects from adverse affection the use and enjoyment by other occupants of their own lots, or the common property”. 

Ms Hames said a dramatic shift in buyer expectations was posing a problem for some apartment blocks with legacy policies outlawing pets. 

“Buyers today have enduring demand for car spaces, sunlight and balconies but most are seeking a pet-friendly building, of which there are few in our market,” Ms Hamer said.  

Ms Hamer says buildings that are strictly no pets - and even adopt the slightly less strict “you can bring your elderly pet but if it dies you can’t replace it” rule - are likely to deter about half of prospective buyers. 

“Buyers (as well as renters) are becoming more discerning when it comes to small spaces and anti-pet buildings.” 

Legal beagles  

Australia has one of the highest rates of pet ownership in the world, with two thirds of households possessing a pet, reinforcing the need for states to clarify laws around animals and accommodation. 

While the legal case in New South Wales makes it difficult for strata managers to outlaw pets in their managed apartment and housing complexes, owner landlords there still have the right to ban pets from their rental premises. 

REINSW chief executive Tim McKibbin told API Magazine that the Court of Appeal effectively ruled that pets qualified as an essential part of life. 

“Angus the dog enables tenants to challenge strata rules prohibiting pets but landlords still hold the power to rule on their own properties about pets,” he said. 

“The ruling also left the door open on the definition of what constitutes a pet. 

“A horse has been kept in an apartment and another tenant removed kitchen cupboard doors to keep chickens in the rented apartment and that grey area is still legally unresolved.” 

Laws in Victoria are stricter, applying not just to strata managers but to landlords as well. Only one landlord in Victoria has so far succeeded in his bid to keep pets out since the law changed a year ago. 

The new pet clauses in the Victorian Residential Tenancies Act that came into force on March 2, 2020, say a landlord “must not unreasonably refuse” consent for a tenant to keep an animal.  

In Queensland and the ACT, consent for keeping pets also cannot be unreasonably withheld. 

In NSW, Mr McKibbin said landlords are in the awkward position of being “damned if they do, damned if they don’t.”  

“As it stands, it’s confusing for both tenants and landlords,” Mr McKibbin said. 

“It’s not widely understood that landlords can refuse a tenant from having a pet, irrespective of any by-law preventing the owners’ corporation from making a blanket ban.  

“A lot of tenants aren’t aware of this.  

“In some ways, landlords are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.  

“To grant their tenant permission to keep a pet in their apartment, the landlord also takes responsibility for the tenant’s adherence to the by-laws that govern the keeping of pets in the building.  

“If the tenant takes the pet to the wrong common areas, the landlord is the one who has not been compliant and if the tenant fails to clean up after their pet, again the landlord is the one who has failed to comply.”  

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