The petiquette of Sectional Title

The question of pets in Sectional Title (ST) schemes remains a contentious one, and is often the source of heated debate between members of the body corporate – despite the fact that the matter is clearly dealt with in the very first of the standard conduct rules.
These rules apply in all ST schemes unless they are specifically amended by the developer before establishment, or by the body corporate after establishment, and unless those amendments have been filed at the Deeds Office, notes Andrew Schaefer, MD of the leading national property management company Trafalgar.
And the first conduct rule states, in part, that “an owner or occupier of a section shall not, without the consent in writing of the trustees, which approval may not unreasonably be withheld, keep any animal, reptile or bird in a section or on the common property”.
“It also says, however, that the trustees may impose reasonable conditions on pet owners and may withdraw their consent if the conditions are not met. The practical effect of this is that, in the absence of an amended rule, the trustees of the body corporate must grant a pet owner's request to keep their pets, unless there are very good reasons not to do so – and also that that the pet owner must keep to any conditions set by the trustees.”
What is more, Schaefer says, there have been four court rulings since 1997 that make the situation even clearer in schemes where the conduct rules have not been amended.
“In one, made in the Pretoria High Court, the judge ruled that the trustees of a scheme had acted unreasonably in refusing permission for an apartment owner to keep three cats. The applicant had very sound reasons for wanting to keep the cats and had agreed that they would be confined to the flat. The judge also ordered the body corporate to pay costs.”
There are similar cases on record, he says, concerning high-rise ST schemes in Durban and Amanzimtoti, and the effect of these rulings is that every application to keep a pet has to be treated on its merits. “What is more, trustees do need to consider the question of pets with some sensitivity, especially in cases where a pet is the only companion that an elderly person has.
“On the other hand, pet owners must take into account that roaming cats and constantly barking dogs can be a genuine source of annoyance and disturbance to other residents, and that they need to keep to any conditions imposed by the trustees or risk having the permission to keep their animals withdrawn.”
In addition, says Schaefer, in ST schemes that have properly amended the pets' rule to ban all or certain types of pets, or limit the number of pets that an owner may keep, the trustees have no choice but to follow the new rule – no matter what they may personally think of a resident’s pleas to bend it.
“The end result is that it is very important for pet owners to check, before they buy or rent in a particular ST scheme whether they will be allowed to keep pets there - and under what conditions.
“Similarly, it is up to those who would prefer to live in a pet-free scheme to ensure that they choose one where the conduct rule dealing with pets has been properly amended to exclude the keeping of animals.”

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