Apartment buildings across Sydney are steeling themselves for an influx of furry friends after the landmark NSW court ruling that outlawed blanket bans on pets.
While unit owners in the high-profile, no-pets-allowed Horizon building in Darlinghurst are debating whether to appeal the judgment in the High Court of Australia in Canberra, apartment blocks elsewhere are coming to terms with the new pro-pet law.
“It means that in any building with bylaws that currently don’t allow pets, if an owner’s refused permission to keep a dog or cat or fish, they can just go to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) which will potentially overturn the bylaw,” said David Sachs, of lawyers Sachs Gerace.
“Now buildings are working out ways of trying to manage pets by either prescribing what’s allowed, or proscribing what is not. In the future, the debate will simply be about what’s an acceptable level of control in strata of pets. People are beginning to work out the regulations, policies and how to enforce them.”
The big change is a direct result of a lengthy legal battle that ultimately saw Horizon dog-lover Jo Cooper overturn its no-pets bylaw after the NSW Court of Appeal ruled last week that a blanket ban was “harsh, unconscionable or oppressive”, and that the bylaw also restricted the lawful use of each lot, as long as it didn’t infringe on other residents.
Now – unless there’s a successful High Court appeal or the NSW government changes the laws as a result of its upcoming review into strata – no apartment block will be legally able to refuse to admit animals.
Most new buildings already allow pets and many that are now under construction are adding design features that make pet occupation easier.
In the new 331-apartment Waterfall by Crown Group in Waterloo, for instance, common area and lift lobby floor finishes are designed to be hard-wearing and resilient to paws and occasional accidents.
It also has large internal gardens with grassed areas, and 3600 square metres of dog-friendly parks surrounding the development, including a park on council land for kids and pets. Its retail section also offers a cat cafe and a dog-grooming parlour.
“We have been one of the first Sydney developers to accommodate pets and cater to that demand with our building design and our retail mix as well as our property management,” said Anthony Caudullo, Crown Group director of property management.
“We imagine this court decision will encourage other developers to follow suit and design better pet-friendly buildings. This is attractive to apartments tenants as well as owners, who enjoy having higher demand from rental applicants, and will certainly become a trend. We are happy to be ahead of the game.”
Developers are also moving now to loosen bylaws restricting pet ownership. At the 17-apartment boutique development “Bala” by the Sun Property Group (SPG) under construction in Neutral Bay, there were bylaws proposed restricting dog ownership to one animal.
A couple wanting to buy in the block with two small dogs asked for a change. “So, we went to the other buyers and they agreed to change the bylaw,” said SPG general manager Cameron Johnson. “That’s now the bylaw for the future.
“Clearly, pets are now a very important part of urban living and are crucial to some people’s lives in the way they enjoy their own homes. We’re embracing this kind of change. For future projects, we’re now also looking at different waste disposal needs, creating extra storage in homes for pets and in basements for their equipment.”
Another new development, this time in Bondi Junction, has been designed specifically to be pet-friendly. Some of the 81 units in The Bond from Capital Corporation have outdoor spaces as large as the internal living areas.
Peter Chittenden, managing director residential for sales and project marketing agents Colliers International, says it’s the way of the future, particularly for developments appealing to single people and couples.
“Developers are now considering features like pathways through common property for dogs,” he said. “Now we advise most to be pet-friendly. The biggest problem is for old, established product, where owners don’t want to be pet-friendly. This has been imposed on them and now they’re having to play catch-up.”
There’s still anger from many, however, about the court’s decision. “It’s a blow to the democratic right of buildings to decide their bylaws, and how to run their buildings, for themselves,” said Stephen Goddard, of the Owners Corporation Network.
“What’s really sad is that the Court of Appeal made a decision on property law principles without having any regard to collective community living. It’s an urban myth that title to a strata lot is like a title to land – and it’s not.”