Strata apartment pet ban turns into nasty dogfight

Single mum Tiffany Spiers was excited about buying an apartment in an award-winning, pet-friendly block in Kensington, knowing its 50-square-metre terrace would be perfect for her two small dogs. But 10 months after she moved in with her son Thomas, the strata committee rewrote the bylaws – to make it clearer that each apartment could have only one pet.

Ms Spiers, 50 – whose beagle-cross-Jack Russell (named Daisy) and West Highland terrier (Fergus) are devoted to each other – was distraught.

Devoted to each other: Tiffany Spiers with Daisy and Fergus.
Devoted to each other: Tiffany Spiers with Daisy and Fergus.Credit:Peter Rae

‘‘If Fergus has to go out to have his hair cut, Daisy sits by the door and pines until he gets home again,’’ says Ms Spiers, 50.

‘‘I work from home, and I’m home all day, every day; it’s lovely to have my two furry assistants with me. But now it’s become a nightmare. I was told I’d have to ‘eliminate’ one of my dogs, which obviously I can’t do. Everything I own is wrapped up in this home, and I’ve worked very, very hard to be able to purchase a property in the eastern suburbs to be close to my ageing mother.’’


Ms Spiers and Thomas, who’s just celebrated his 21st birthday, live in a 148-square-metre apartment in the 164-unit Capella Apartments on Anzac Parade. The complex was designed by prestigious architect Richard Francis-Jones of FJMT and lauded by its developer Carrington on its completion in 2006 for its pet-friendly stance. But now, after an AGM in December 2018 passed the strata committee motion to adjust the bylaws to spell out the limit on the number of pets – whether dogs, cats, fish or budgies – to one per apartment, Ms Spiers is appealing against the decision at the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal.

Capella Apartments strata manager Scott Martel of First Strata said, ‘‘The bylaws were reconstituted with parallel meanings with modern adjustments to make them clearer. They shouldn’t have been interpreted to allow more than one pet.’’

The chair of the owners’ corporation did not return calls.

Ms Spiers is claiming at NCAT that it’s ‘‘harsh, unconscionable and oppressive’’ for a strata building to impose a blanket ban on the keeping of two pets. Her appeal was heard at the same time as the appeal of another building, the Elan at Kings Cross, that would allow the owners’ corporation to ban all pets. The results of both are likely to be handed down in February.

Another significant building, Horizon in Darlinghurst, has reserved the right to appeal against an NCAT ruling that allows an owner to live there with her miniature schnauzer in contravention of their total pet ban. A spokesperson from Horizon said a decision on whether to appeal would be made later.

Barrister Richard Gration, on behalf of Elan, submitted to the appeal hearing that the issue raised was much more profound than simply whether or not pets should be allowed in strata or the number of those pets. He argued the real issue was about strata democracy and the fundamental principle that building owners themselves are the people best-placed to vote and decide amongst themselves about how they want to live in their own community.

‘‘Parliament set up the governance arrangements in strata around general meetings of owners, procedures and bylaws,’’ he told the tribunal. ‘‘These are critically important appeals, with far-reaching consequences for everyone living in strata in NSW; well beyond simply a question of animals or no animals.’’

On Ms Spiers’ case, Mr Martel agrees. ‘‘What’s now being debated is the issue of bylaws and the ability of an owners corporation to issue bylaws,’’ he said.

Ms Spiers’ lawyer, Ken Yardy, won his own case at NCAT over his Maltese terrier cross after his strata scheme changed the bylaws to prohibit pets. He successfully argued it was unconscionable to ban animals. It’s not just about strata democracy, he said. ‘‘It’s also about the oppression of people by the majority. And it’s about private things that people do in their own homes.

‘‘There might occasionally be a bark, but that can be dealt with by the current ordnances.’’

In the meantime, Ms Spiers, who works in cost management, is treasuring her time with Daisy and Fergus. ‘‘The whole thing is ridiculous,’’ she says. ‘‘If I’d have known this would happen, and what it would be like living in such a regressive strata and how this whole process would be so financially and emotionally devastating, l would never have purchased here.

‘‘And it’s not as if I want to move a small giraffe or 15 cats into a tiny apartment!’’

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