When Melinda Vassallo first moved into her Newtown apartment, it never occurred to her that she might need permission for all members of the Vassallo family to accompany her.
It wasn’t until months later that it dawned on the Sydney-based brand manager that not all of her neighbours might feel as excited about her fur kids, as they had been about the arrival of a new community member.
“It was the first ever strata residence I’d bought. I didn’t understand anything about strata so I just moved in with my dog and cat not realising I needed to get approval first,” she says.
“It wasn’t until much later I found there was issues with people saying I didn’t go through the correct process and I had put myself in a position where my neighbours didn’t like me very much.”
Vassallo is a responsible pet owner. Within her pet-friendly boutique strata block permission to have pets is usually granted quite quickly upon application to the strata manager, then approved by the Committee.
We can thankfully report that the fur members of the Vassallo family are officially part of this complex’s colourful, friendly community.
Dog lover Jo Cooper’s experience was entirely different. A resident of the Horizon Building in Darlinghurst in Sydney’s East, Cooper was forced to wage a four-and-a-half year battle to be permitted to keep her miniature schnauzer in the building, which has always had a pet ban.
But just last month the singer’s efforts finally paid off following a New South Wales Court of Appeal ruling that overturned the rights of strata blocks to pass bylaws prohibiting animals.
The Court of Appeal ruled that a blanket ban on animals infringed the limitation that a bylaw must not be “harsh, unconscionable or oppressive”, and that the bylaw also restricted the lawful use of each lot on a basis which lacked a rational connection with the enjoyment of other lots and the common property.
The verdict, which was unanimous, now means that no blanket ban on pets will be permitted in any building anywhere in the state.
It is believed the decision could have serious implications for many other buildings in the state, including the Elan apartment tower in Kings Cross, which has been engaged in another legal fight challenging its right to ban residents from having animals live at the complex.
The Elan has now called a meeting of its strata committee to decide its next steps.
After learning of the Court of Appeal verdict, the barrister who represented the Elan in court noted the effect of this decision would be “extremely far-reaching”.
“It’s now not possible to have a blanket ban on animals. If there is to be any ban, then it has to be tailored to protect the amenity of other lot owners, so a bylaw can only exist to restrict, say, barking dogs or screeching cockatoos.
“This does put limits on the extent that owners can democratically create rules for their own buildings, and bylaws now can’t be used for anything people do in their own lot that doesn’t affect others. It’s now going to be difficult for those who have genuine fears of dogs, or who are very allergic to dog and cat hair.”
There now remains two possible avenues of appeal against the decision. The first would be via an appeal to the High Court of Australia. The second would be as a result of an upcoming review of strata laws the NSW Parliament is taking where politicians could decide to enact new legislation about the keeping of animals.
A petition to the NSW Parliament from pet lovers currently has around 13,000 signatures on it requesting it to outlaw blanket bans on pets.
Other legal experts however suggest the best course of action would be for strata schemes to develop bylaws that allow pets, subject to certain conditions and criteria.
Vassallo, who firmly supports the lifting of the ban, says pets are a big part of all communities, no matter their owner’s choice in residence.
She says for every strata resident who believes animals are an unpleasant annoyance there are others who believe they deserve to retain their rightful place alongside their owners.
The onus is on pet owners to adequately care for their pets so they are content in their home. They need to be walked, groomed, fed and entertained just like the rest of us.
At the end of the day, children who flip their bottles in stairwells or ride their skateboards in garages or around common areas can generate just as much noise, or make just as much mess, as barking dogs or toileting felines, she says.