Sectional title advice: Pets and what you need to know

Keeping pets in sectional title complexes is never a walk in the park, according to specialist sectional title attorney Marina Constas. She believes that there are many reasons that this emotive issue has retained its number one spot as the first rule in the model conduct rules outlined in the new sectional title legislation.

“It doesn’t surprise me that the keeping of animals, reptiles and birds is the first rule in the model conduct rules of a sectional title scheme. In the new legislation, this rule has retained its number one position. In my experience, this is justified by the number of pet-related disputes in the industry, and the amount of time, energy and legal fees that pet owners and bodies corporate are prepared to spend in fighting cases involving either retaining or removing a pet.”

Constas says there are certain new rules to be read together with this act, and that owners and residents must abide by these.

“If the sectional title scheme falls under the new Annexure 2 Model Conduct Rules, then owners or occupiers must have trustees’ written consent to keep a pet. The trustees are not allowed to unreasonably withhold consent. This means they must put their minds to the various circumstances surrounding the request; they need to consider the best interests of the scheme, and the prejudice, if any, that owners would suffer, compared to the interests of the prospective pet owner.

“Should a beloved, quiet bulldog be removed from his 11-year-old companion, for example, if the parents of the child provided a psychiatrist’s report stating that the dog helped the child deal with his anxiety? Or, consider the case of an elderly Great Dane, whose owners assured the trustees that their pet hardly ever moves during the day, and has forgotten how to bark. These are the type of issues with which the trustees must grapple.

“Should they decide to allow a pet into the scheme, the model rules also tell us that they will be allowed to provide for any reasonable condition regarding the keeping of the pet. The trustees can withdraw their consent should any conditions which they imposed be breached.”

The new Rule 1(2) says that trustees’ consent is considered a given should any owner require a guide dog, a hearing dog or an assistance dog, Constas says: “Obviously, the owner of such dog must provide the trustees with evidence of a disability. Interestingly, there has been an increase in diabetic alert dogs, which are dogs that are trained to alert their diabetic owners in advance of low or high blood sugar events before they become dangerous.”

Owners who have obtained permission to keep pets in their townhouses will find that this is not the end of their efforts, Constas cautions. “They must understand their reciprocal obligation. Apart from the various conditions which the trustees will apply – for example, always walking dogs on leashes and having a poop scoop at the ready – the act stipulates that pets should not cause any inconvenience to other owners.

“If owners are breaching the rules and the act by either keeping pets without permission or having a nuisance of a pet, there are a few options available to the body corporate,” she says. “A court interdict can be obtained to compel the pet’s removal, or both parties can agree to private arbitration, or the dispute can be referred to the Community Schemes Ombud Service.”

Constas says that if owners want a pet free complex, it is possible to draft a “no pets” clause in the complex rules, if the body corporate – which is all the owners –  can achieve a special resolution.

“Clearly the pets policy is a touchy issue in sectional title, and one requiring consistent application and implementation,” Constas says.

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