Consumer Watch: About those pet peeves – Georgina Crouth

Love animals? You’re not alone, but if you’re living in close quarters with others, there are limits.

And those limits are not only to guard against the incessant yappers or barkers, nuisance cat fights, pet pythons and even clucking chickens that are kept in the backyard. They’re also set to ensure good neighbourliness.

Clearly defined rules in sectional title complexes are vital to guide not only the conduct of neighbours and visitors, but also their animals – and whether or not they are even allowed to be kept.

A stinking problem

In one case, a woman in a townhouse in Olivedale, northern Johannesburg started developing allergies and eventually pinned it down to the presence of a pig. Her neighbours on the ground floor had been keeping a pot-bellied pig and the body corporate was none the wiser.

And while it was cute as a piglet, it soon outgrew the unit and needed to be kept outdoors, which wasn’t kept clean and resulted in a stinky, unkept mess that attracted flies. It got so bad that the upstairs neighbours couldn’t utilise their balconies on some days.

Luckily, the tenants moved out within months, taking their plump hog along.

What, though, of the rules around the numbers of pets each unit may have, reader * Lulu asks.

She’s owned her unit in a 12-unit complex since 2002, all owner- occupied.

“Our rules of conduct have always been very relaxed pertaining to the number of pets each unit may have,” Lulu says.

But two years ago, she was issued a letter stating she may not replace any of her cats until she reached the new rule allowing for only two pets.

“I have subsequently questioned the trustees and the managing agent as to the consistent application of this ‘so-called rule’, especially the inconsistent application of the rule to cats versus dogs. The response of the trustees was that it has always been the rule and that the rules of conduct were registered with the Deeds Office as such.”

Ask, don’t assume

Marina Constas, a sectional title specialist attorney and director of BBM Attorneys, says if you have a pet or are considering buying one, it’s best to check the conduct rules of the scheme first, to avoid any heartbreak.

It’s not a constitutional right to keep a pet, but if the rules say “no pets”, there are exceptions – especially where an owner or occupier of a unit has a disability and gets permission to bring a guide, hearing or assistance dog into a scheme.

“The recognition of the rights of the disabled in sectional title schemes in South Africa is well overdue, and the use of service dogs to mitigate many types of disabilities and assist persons with illnesses is already well-known and accepted in most countries. In practice, we have come across a comfort dog for a young girl who was suffering from severe psychiatric problems (which her psychiatrist confirmed) and a dog who was able to alert a caregiver to dangerously low levels of blood sugar in a patient suffering from diabetes.”

Constas says the wording of a statute is everything, and the same applies to the wording of a scheme’s conduct rule concerning the keeping of pets. The default conduct rules though, contained in Schedule 2 to the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act, state an owner or occupier must not, without the written consent of the trustees (which may not be unreasonably withheld), keep an animal, reptile or bird in a section or on the common property.

New thinking

“While the sectional title environment greatly magnifies the requirements of the South African law of nuisance – especially when it comes to pets causing a nuisance to fellow residents of a scheme – it would be wonderfully practical if developers, architects and owners adopted a different perspective on the issue, because the concept of environmental design is crucial to creating more pet friendly complexes.”

This, she says, is because international studies have shown that pet owners enjoy better health and longevity.

“Pets fulfil the need for companionship, mental and physical stimulation, and provide a multitude of other advantages. Managers of retirement villages, in particular, should remain sensitive to the pet issue. Many an elderly person, especially those who have lost their spouses, only maintain the will to go on living because of the love which they have for a dog or cat because their families don’t have enough quality time for them in the modern hustle and bustle.”

And while there are by-laws in place, in terms of sectional title, the rules of the complex trump the by-laws. “The new Sectional Titles Management Act stipulates that owners can have pets, with the consent of the trustees, which cannot be unreasonably withheld, but it can be withdrawn though.”

For disputes, Constas suggests approaching the ombud: Every community scheme in the country, whether registered or in the process of registration, is legally required to pay levies to the CSOS. The cost is R50 for mediation or R100 for adjudication, she says. This gives members access to those services, at a discount.

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