Pets or Pests?

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05 Jun 2009

One of the most common causes of disputes in sectional title developments is that of pets.

Whether it is the owner who is trying to hold onto his pets or the trustees who are trying to get rid of them, we have a vast number of such cases for our attention at any given time. In fact, I have just presided over one such case as the arbitrator.

It is always an emotionally charged issue for both sides. The owner sees his or her pet as part of the family, and often in the case of older folk, the pet is the only family they have as the "empty nest" syndrome takes its toll. On the other hand, one must look at the nuisance factor that pets may cause to other members of a scheme who don't feel quite the same about animals. Barking dogs, roaming cats and noisy birds have been the cause of many heated discussions at body corporate meetings.

No matter how emotional the matter becomes, or how convincing either side is about their case, the "buck", so to speak, stops at the rules of the body corporate. Most bodies corporate make reference to pets in their registered conduct rules and if they don't, that is a huge oversight on the part of the trustees. In any event, the rules regarding pets must be adhered to and applied consistently.

We recently had a managing agent ask whether the Chairman of a scheme was allowed to grant permission to an owner to keep a dog in his unit when the rules specifically said only cats were allowed. The reason for this deviation from the rules was that the sale of a unit was dependant on the new owner being allowed to keep his dog. Apart from the fact that making such an exception would open the door to all sorts of other complications for the trustees in the future, the rules were clear and had to be applied strictly.

Some complexes allow for particular pets only and they are also specific about their size, e.g. dogs that do not exceed 30cm in height when fully grown. Other complexes allow pets only on the written permission of the trustees and at their discretion. Rules should also be specific on the number of pets allowed per unit and the required control of the owners over their pets. It is also vital that a tenant be made aware of his rights and duties regarding pets (as well as all other aspects of the complex).

Again, it cannot be stressed enough, when buying into a sectional title scheme - don't make a move, don't sign a thing, don't even breathe - until you have a copy of the rules (which must be filed with the Deeds Office) and you agree to live by them. Community living throws a myriad of different people into a relatively confined space, and in order to achieve harmony, one must be willing to compromise.

Marina Constas is a specialist sectional title attorney, and a director at Biccari Bollo Mariano Attorneys. She is also an author and lecturer.

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But what about a complex where it is not sectional title? We have lived in a complex where the road – a panhandle cul de sac – was closed off with a security gate and the title deed tranferred to the body corporate from the municipality. After moving into our newly-bought home we were informed about the constitution of the complex stating no pets allowed. Since we have two cats and two dogs we decided that we will not get rid of them nor will we discuss the matter further as the municipality nor the estate agents knew anything about this hefty rules. A neighbour of ours was then slapped with a letter from the body corporate over the weekend that her dog is too noisy and that she should adhere to the rules about pets as set out on the constitution of our complex. This was done about ten minutes after the weekend report about the time a dog may bark per hour. Is it fair to say that these rules and regulations are petty as there were no action taken when we complained to the body coprorate about a hard hearing mother of 80-something and her deaf son and the amount of noise that they generate at 06:00 every day? I for one will not adhere to the rules set out in our complex constitution and will only adhere to the normal rules and good neigbourly practices as set out by our municipality. - David Smit

Myself and my husband are currently viewing accommodation to rent, having only recently qualified and therefore looking for smaller properties eg. two-bedroom houses. We are appalled at the stipulations of body corporates regarding pet ownership, stipulating no cats, or only small dogs. Anybody who is familiar with animals will know that cats can manage perfectly well as indoor animals, and that small dogs are often more disruptive than large dogs which don't bark half as much. It goes without saying that responsible pet ownership should be expected regardless of the property people occupy, eg. animals should all be sterilised and dogs walked (regardless of the garden size).

I am beginning to wonder whether we will find accommodation to suit us, as our prerequisites include a medium-sized garden and the ability to own pets without strict rules. Both my husband and I are fully-qualified veterinarians and therefore fully capable to understand an animal's environmental requirements, and hence resent being told that larger dogs are not allowed when the garden is clearly large enough to contain a Great Dane, as long as it is given daily outdoor stimulation as well.

Even more food for thought is the experience we find of many clients approaching veterinary clinics to rehome animals, dogs and especially cats when they are moving to downsize/retire into complexes which refuse to allow any pets. Many of these animals end up being euthanased due to a lack of homes. Understandably, people should make provision for their pets when moving, but it is not always a circumstance which can be controlled. - Dr. Michelle Pazzi

Pity young people living in a complex

How is as in my case it was OK to have a dog, then the know-it-alls' dog died, and all of a sudden the rules suddenly started changing by going against pets? How is it possible that it only takes one self-centred individual to make a statement that a dog is a nuisance for it all of a sudden be declared one?

How is it that a women who claims she was bitten by the dog on her big toe also claims she did not kick the dog? Any person with half a brain can work it out for themselves, if your foot is flat on the ground (wearing a slip slop) there is no way on earth a medium-size dog can open its jaw to such an extent that it can puncture the top of the big toe?? Pray do tell what the dog does with its lower jaw? Yes you got it right, she got a fright and kicked at the dog.

Come arbitration time. We 40 somethings vs the 60+ year olds and an arbitrator of close to that too. In the written report from the arbitrator it was found that the so-called bitten one and her (best friend in complex) so called witness were not telling the truth as both versions differed. Yet arbitrator still found against the young ones and found for the old ones. So lying is a good thing and justice will prevail at the arbitrators???? Ja right, pull the other one.

As for me who was always told to talk than to use violence, huh, to hell with it, bring back the wild west so there is no hiding behind the skirts of biased arbitrators. Let's face it, if you are young and live in a complex, you are in for hard times, after all the old folk want to rule their little old-age home and the youngsters will never be happy because the rules will change as they need it.

Take the complex living and keep it. - Anonymous

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