It has just become easier for NSW dog owners to keep their furry friends in an apartment.

Photo: Marina Oliphant

There is no logic to the default banning of pets in strata schemes.

It comes from a time when such schemes were more like institutions than homes, and pets were seen as a potential problem and therefore must not be allowed.

Large dogs and strata may not mix.

But if preventing potential problems is your goal, you would ban cars, hi-fi, surround sound TVs, alcohol and stiletto shoes before you got rid of cats and hamsters.


And with 30 per cent of Australian families owning pets, that’s a big chunk of potential buyers or renters to exclude when your unit goes on the market.

These days we have enough experience of pet residency in units to be able to make some informed choices. We know the best dogs for units – who’d have thought a great Dane was the ideal apartment dog? – and the worst (anything yappy and territorial).

That’s not to say there haven’t been issues.

In the almost 10 years that I’ve been writing the Flat Chat column in Domain, pet stories have been frequent flyers. Views have ranged from those who think it’s cruel to leave dogs, especially, alone all day, to others who think the value of companion animals, especially to the elderly and lonely, outweighs any of the negatives.

And whatever the by-laws might be, there are always issues that slip between the cracks. We’ve had the woman who bought into a pet-friendly apartment only to discover the by-law had changed to ban dogs between signing the cheque and getting the keys.

There was the iconic eastern suburbs block where dozens of owners bought off the plan thinking pets were allowed, only to find the chairman had decided they should be banned. An unlikely coalition of pet-owners, who might never have spoken to each other otherwise, gelled into an irresistible force that not only got pets allowed in the building but got rid of the chairman, his cronies and the developer-appointed building manager too.

One tenant in another building lost a python and didn’t know whether to alert the executive committee (risking eviction) or hope it turned up (risking all sorts of other problems). It did, weeks later, sleeping behind a picture on the wall, almost inducing a heart attack in its owner when he was spring cleaning.

When a resident of the massive Horizon building in Darlinghurst tried to conceal the fact she had a cat by flushing its litter down the toilet, the clay granules built up and the resulting blockage flooded lower floors with raw sewage. Pets are still banned there, a decade later.

So what do the proposed changes to the model by-laws mean? Will allowing pets be compulsory?

Firstly, regardless of what’s in the new model by-laws, the by-laws you currently have in your strata scheme will not change unless you change them. Collectively, the owners of units in any strata scheme can choose whatever rules they want as long as they don’t contravene other laws or ban children or ‘assistance animals’ such as guide dogs.

The model by-laws will, however, potentially affect all new schemes after July 1. They are off-the-peg suggestions provided by Fair Trading and the vast majority of new strata schemes adopt them without a great deal of thought. New buildings where prospective owners really don’t want animals under the same roof can alter the model by-laws accordingly.

But for most blocks, the problem is that once the by-laws are in place it’s very hard to change them. You need only 25 per cent of ‘no’ votes at a meeting to prevent changes to by-laws. That has made it very easy for a vocal and well-organised minority to stymie reform and that’s why the default position on pets is being shifted from ‘not without permission’ to ‘yes, but with conditions’.

Rest assured, there are other by-laws that deal with barking, pooing on common property and monstering your neighbours that could see poochy sent down the road faster than a dishlicker at Wentworth Park.

And there is hope for strata schemes stuck with the old anti-pet by-laws. The proposed ban on proxy harvesting and the inclusion of electronic and postal voting as well as secret ballots will make it harder for rusted-on executive committee members to block change just because they can.

Something approaching true democracy has been unleashed and that is probably the most profound change in all these proposals.

Jimmy Thomson is a freelance journalist and author who writes the Flat Chat column in Domain every week and provides advice on strata living through his website