Dogs by default in NSW units?

Major reforms to strata laws in New South Wales spell big changes for the ways unit owners and investors operate. Some hail them as a revolution, and there are positive components. Allowing pets by default should be of concern though.


His name was Henry and he was a horrible little boy. My friend had owned her inner-city unit for two years when her new neighbours moved in.

All day from the moment his mum toddled off to work, Henry would cry loudly and persistently. My poor mate ran her own design business from home, so she’d be stuck putting up with this petulant infant’s temper tantrums.

He’d run around the small one-bedroom flat in a frenzy. When he wasn’t scratching at the walls and trying to pop out the window screens, he was barking and howling like a madman.

Henry was a miniature dachshund who spent the majority of his day confined to a 45-square-metre unit. He obviously wasn’t pleased.

By the end of the first week, my friend was a bad mood away from a mental breakdown, so she went and knocked on the lady’s door to see what could be done. But she wasn’t remotely interested in the issue and simply explained, “dogs will be dogs”.

My friend bought one of those machines from Bunnings that’s meant to send out a high frequency sound when a dog bark is detected. She put it at the window and crossed her fingers, but it didn’t work.

She bought some sort of spray and sneakily coated her neighbour’s windows and doors in it, but that didn’t do the trick either.

After one more attempt at mediation, she went to the body corporate committee to complain. To her surprise, the strata scheme had a provision in its bylaws that allowed pets, provided they met council requirements on size. Little Henry did, it seemed.

The committee sent the woman a letter asking her to make an effort to control her dog, but she sent back a curt reply saying that she didn’t really care to. She owned her unit, she paid her body corporate fees and, in her eyes, there wasn’t much they could do to punish her or little Henry.

She took further offence to the pleas of her neighbours and became a nightmare to live with. Tension ran thick in the air and there wasn’t a resident, owner-occupier or renter, who wasn’t upset at the situation.

Long story short, my friend called an emergency general meeting, lobbied unit owners and pushed for a ban of pets in the building, unless explicitly approved by all property owners.

She won, the woman moved and rented her unit, and harmony returned to the little urban enclave. But that was several months of heartache and pain, all because someone back in the day had decided to change the bylaws to allow pets by default.

The exact same thing is about to happen in NSW, with the introduction of wide-ranging reforms to strata laws. It’s about time, given the current legislation is pretty outdated, so there are welcome changes to cigarette smoke drift from balconies, noisy timber floating floors and more.

And, much to the delight of many property and tenant advocacy commentators, pets will be allowed by default, rather than banning them and requiring individual committees to change the rules.

When you’re looking for a rental property in a tight market and you’ve got a pet, there’s no denying that the search can be a tough one. A mate of mine rents in Sydney with her boxer dog Bruno and has resorted to sneaking him around so she doesn’t have to go through the hassle of declaring him. That went well until the day she discovered that her landlord lives in the same building. They met in the lift. She was booted out a short time later.

But she’d rather take the risky road of asking for forgiveness rather than permission because the prospect of eviction is easier. So, there’s a need for understanding on both parts. I just don’t think it involves a default approval.

I get that tenant flexibility is important in a society where a growing proportion of people choose to rent, and do so in unit or apartment complexes. But a rental property is someone’s investment, and an expensive one at that. What’s the harm with an opt-in system for pets, rather than an opt-out one?

A harmonious strata committee requires a delicate dance. Automatically allowing pets without the consultation of everyone who has a stake in the property seems like a recipe for disaster.

Shannon Molloy is the deputy editor of Australian Property Investor magazine,

  1. Lisa Rutland

    I agree: blanket approvals on pets is not a good idea. Committees need to have a way to deal with situations you described above. A badly behaved pet (person?) needs to be dealt with for the good of everyone else.