Every so often – about once a month – I get invited on to James Valentine’s Afternoons on ABC 702.
Last week the topic was pets in apartments – partly because that was all anyone was talking about.
So we had a couple of people ringing up with their pet questions and complaints, all of which has indirectly added to a pet-heavy Flat Chat website this week.
And that was exacerbated by my response to a question about whether or not there was a guide to the best dogs for apartments.
“Oh, yes,” I blithely replied. “You’ll find it on the website.”
I wasn’t sure where but I knew it would be there … except it wasn’t. I don’t know how I managed to convince myself that I’d already done this, but I did and I hadn’t.
Which is why I spent my weekend digging through and collating the opinions of half a dozen websites purporting to offer the definitive list of the best dogs for units.
If you are interested, you can find that info here. Otherwise, if you missed the session on Afternoons, sit back and enjoy our chat from last week which we hope was entertaining and informative.
Transcript in full
Every so often (I won’t say regularly, because it’s anything but regular), but just about once a month, I get invited onto James Valentine’s Afternoons on ABC 702 radio. Last week, James asked me on to talk about pets, because everybody’s talking about pets. Nobody’s talking about anything else except pets at the moment. I thought that would make a very good podcast. I’m Jimmy Thomson. This is the Flat Chat Wrap.
Hello, Canberra, hello, Sydney, hello, Newcastle. Three of the great cities of this nation, combined together with one radio show. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing. For those in Canberra who haven’t encountered Jimmy Thomson, let me set the scene for you. Jimmy Thomson (for longer than even he cares to remember and for longer than most people can), has been looking at the strata rules of largely, New South Wales and the ACT. Now, you might think to yourself, ‘wow, he sounds like an interesting fellow,’ and this is the odd thing about Jimmy Thomson… He makes it very interesting. As more and more Australians (in all those cities I’m describing), end up living in apartments and strata and townhouses and the like; more of us have got to get our head across what that means and what some of the issues are. Jimmy runs a website called www.flatchat.com.au He’s also written for the Domain and the Herald for many years on these issues. You can follow up on anything we’re talking about today by going to www.flatchat.com.au and you can look at the debates they’ve had and the issues that have been there. We found it very, very helpful (and many have, listening to this), to get Jimmy in to talk through changes as they’re coming along. Now, we decided to have something of a Flat Chat special today, because Jimmy and I were linked in to a discussion on Twitter, about an assistant dog. Jimmy, g’day!
Good afternoon. Nice to have you have you along, as always. Look, I’m so annoyed. I can’t believe that our building manager is having another go at removing Buddy from the building; Buddy being a dog. We’ve got the Assistant dog jacket and approval. This person has now gone to their employer and they’ve sent a letter, because now the building manager is saying ‘oh, the dog is overweight; the dog is over a weight limit. The dog is too big for the building.’ The building manager hates dogs, and it’s making it so difficult to deal with this. This is an Assistance dog. These are these marvelous dogs that will be trained in all sorts of ways to help people with all kinds of disabilities, mental health issues, and all the rest. It is absolutely fantastic thing. If there’s one dog you might want in your apartment building, it would be an assistance dog. It’ll be really great; it will be well-trained and would absolutely be perfectly behaved. It’d be absolutely wonderful. I think some of that issue has been dealt with; we won’t deal with that unnecessarily, that issue specifically, but if you’ve got something like that to deal with, give us a call. It prompted me to think, let’s go over the whole pet thing. It’s a reasonably common theme when we have these discussions, so let’s specialize in it today. If you’ve got an issue with pets in your building; if there are arguments going on, if you’re confronting people about it… If you’re not clear, what the current laws are around whether or not you can have dogs, cats and lizards in an apartment in Sydney in New South Wales and the ACT, you can call us on 1300 222 702. You can text to 0467 922 702. Mr Jimmy Thomson, update please.
I’ve gotta say first of all that ACT’s a little bit ahead of New South Wales on this. Generally speaking, you cannot unreasonably refuse to have an animal in a building which is where we are heading at the moment, here in New South Wales.
Right, so we haven’t quite got that here.
It’s on the way. I think it was Tuesday night they (the lower house, which is actually the most important one), approved the amended legislation.
Okay. It’s that current?
Yeah, it is and so in the near future, the law will say that you cannot unreasonably refuse to have an animal in a building
Now that sounds like a nuance that I need to understand. That’s slightly different from saying, you’re allowed to have a dog in the building.
Yes, you’re right, it is different from that. The bill that was promoted mainly by Alex Greenwich (the Sydney MP); he got between the warring factions (and it basically took him six months of playing table tennis to get everybody to agree on a form of words), but basically, the form of words is in the future, you cannot unreasonably refuse; but in that bill was a provision that the government would go off and define ‘unreasonable.’ I think at the same time; they’re going to do something about the number of angels you can have dancing on the head of a pin!
Well I suppose I’d interpret ‘you cannot reasonably refuse anybody having;’ is it dog’s specifically, or pets?
Pets, all animals.
Pet or animal in the building as in, if you have a small fluffy dog, that you walk twice a day, it would be unreasonable to refuse anyone having that. If you wanted to breed Great Danes in a two-bedroom, one-bathroom apartment, we might reasonably refuse that?
You might think that, James, but Great Danes are very good apartment dogs.
Well, I suppose.
Because they don’t require much exercise and they don’t bark.
Right, so I suppose outside of the specifics of breed; characteristic of breed, a small yappy dog could be way more annoying.
If you’ve got a dog, a small yappy dog that’s territorial; that, every time it hears somebody out in the corridor, it’s going to run up to the door to protect your property by barking at the person, that’s not a good apartment dog. A big, lazy dog… I mean, as long as you can afford to buy a second sofa, for the dog…
Yeah, that’s true and people say this about greyhounds as well, don’t they, that they’re largely sleepy? They like a quick run, every now and again, but otherwise, quite good. Is there a list of recommended breeds?
There is but not one I have at hand; he says with panic in his voice. But yeah, one of the big pet insurers (and we have it on the Flat Chat website; we update that quite frequently, the best dogs for apartments and the least good dogs for apartments). The Pet Insurance Association, they produce these things every so often. You know the thing about ‘unreasonable?’ You will find that if a building has never had pets, and has recently had a vote, where the vast majority of owners in the building have said ‘we don’t want animals in the building,’ that could be considered a reasonable; possibly a reason for refusing. ‘We have chosen this building because it has no pets; that is why we came to live here. Most of us feel the same way.’ Is it fair then, for one person to come in and say, ‘well, you can’t refuse?’
Okay, ‘you can’t unreasonably refuse me.’ They’re saying that’s a reasonable refusing, because we’ve been very clear that this is a no-pet building.
This is my theory, which could be exploited at any moment.
Again, because we haven’t nailed this down as yet, it’s still speculative in some way
When it comes, that’s what the law will say. Even things like, the law specifically says, ‘if you take too long to decide whether or not you’re going to allow a pet, it will be deemed to have been allowed.’ So, they’re already thinking ahead on the squirrely things that committees will do.
Sorry if you have a squirrel.
Squirrels, I think they’re exempt.
Okay and so it is ‘pets,’ so potentially, you can have reptiles and things like that in tanks and you cannot unreasonably be refused that. I suppose a lot of discussion around if it’s fish or reptiles or hamsters or something like that is well, they’re gonna be contained; they will live in their tank.
We lived next door to a guy once who was a snake dancer and one of his snakes went missing. He searched high and low and never found it and he was moving out and he took a picture off the wall and the snake had attached itself to the back; still alive. That’s a very kind of a nice dark, cosy place. It was a big; it was a Python.
That’s a cunning snake, because he thought ‘he’s moving soon; he’ll lift up the picture… He’ll take me out. In one slither, I’ll be free.’ Kathy, what did you want to ask?
Hi, James. I know that your guest is an expert in strata title, but I wondered if he might be able to comment on company title? I live in a company title building and we’ve been here 15 years. When we moved in, one of the building rules was no pets. I’ve kept up to date with the changes to the New South Wales strata laws and was very excited to see that pets were being allowed and that you couldn’t reasonably refuse a pet. The stance in the company title seems to be that ‘well, we can make our own rules because we’re not governed by strata title law.’
Yeah, that’s correct. Kathy. I’m sorry to tell you, that’s absolutely correct. Now, there are exemptions to that, for instance, the assistance animals are allowed in company, for the same reason that they can’t be refused entry to restaurants. They’re required; they’re necessary. They can’t be refused entrance on airplanes, because they’re required to be there. The same applies to company title.
This is guide dogs, assistance dogs, all that sort of stuff.
Yeah, as long as they’re registered. Going out and buying a little jacket that says Assistance Animal probably doesn’t do it.
Not that we’re suggesting that the other person did that. It was an actual…
They were properly registered.
And, look, you’re right, in that some people will say, ‘but we got the dog because it’s so important emotionally,’ so therefore, you know, it is an assistance dog.
That is a big deal and it’s actually quite a significant deal. This new report that came out today from AHURI (which is the Australian Housing and Urban Research Institute), is backed up by research by six Australian universities. It says one of the problems they find with people being forced to give up their pets if they can’t find a rental property that allows pets, is they’re sometimes staying in dangerous situations like in a domestic violence situation, because it’s disruptive enough for the kids, but if you know the kids are going to move home and lose their pet, mum decides ‘I can put up with us for a bit longer.’
Wow, yeah. Is this the study that also says we’re all better off, overall, if we allow pets? What do they base that on? What do they mean by that?
Well, for a start, they say property damage by households with pets is no more likely than for households without pets. That’s the big argument against pets. They’ve done the research; that’s gone. Basically, if you take out; 60% of Australian households have pets. If you are renting or selling your property, and you cut out 40% of the potential market for rental or sales, that’s gonna affect in some way and also, it’s better for the community. It creates community and I see it in our building; our building is awash with dogs and people who don’t have pets (who don’t mind pets), actually interact with the people who do have pets, and it’s nice.
Alex has a question, relevant to that. He says if a dog is allowed on the lease, and the lease states that the tenants must have the carpets professionally cleaned at the end of their tenancy in New South Wales, can they get out of getting the carpets cleaned? ‘My agent said that even though it is on the lease, the landlord can’t make us.” I’m a little unclear there as whether Alex has a dog or not. He may be saying that he’s got to clean the carpets, even though he doesn’t have a dog. Let’s say that he does have a dog; the dogs’ allowed. The lease says you must clean the carpets professionally at the end of it. Wouldn’t that be, if it’s in the lease, you’ve got to do that in order to get your bond back?
Except, I’ve got a vague feeling that under the Residential Tenancies Act, you cannot be compelled to do deep cleaning; it just has to be clean. However, if you have signed an agreement that you’re allowed to have a pet ‘on condition,’ that changes slightly but I think under general rental rules …
Would that have to be specified as in ‘yes, you are allowed to have a dog but you are agreeing to clean the carpets at the end or we’ll withhold the bond,’ not ‘you’re allowed to have a dog and somewhere down here it says you must clean the carpets.’
I think they’re connected in the lease, but I’ve got a fairly strong feeling that if you don’t have pets (if you haven’t reached that agreement), I don’t think the landlord can demand that you clean the carpets, unless they need cleaning.
I’d feel like if you have had a dog in there for two years or something, you should clean the carpets. Paul says, ‘my dog’s never been late in paying the rent.’ Isn’t that good? Yeah, dogs are very good flat mates. They’re reliable; they always cough up. Hopefully, just the rent. What did you want to bring up, Roberta?
We have a person in our building who claims her dog, first was a therapy dog. Now, she’s changed her mind. Now she says it’s a companion dog. This dog yaps intermittently for half an hour every morning when she goes to work and half an hour when she comes home, as well as during the day. It’s a small block of units and excusing the expression here, but when people go to the bathroom upstairs, the people in the bedroom downstairs can hear what’s going on in the bathroom upstairs. We have very bad acoustics. This yapping dog drives us bananas. We’ve told her that she can’t have a dog and she insists that she’s keeping it. She doesn’t seem to give a toss about anything.
Is she acknowledging that it barks?
She claims it doesn’t bark when she’s at home.
Well maybe it doesn’t, but she’s not at home all the time. The thing is that the assistance animal issue; in this whole pet debate, what has been ignored is that for years there has been (as part of the law), if the dog is a nuisance, it has to be dealt with. Basically, the owner of the dog is given the option; stop the dog from being a nuisance and if you can’t stop it from being a nuisance, it has to go. Now, that’s been in the law for years.
Now, that would then end up (I would imagine), very quickly in a situation of mediation of some sort, because as Roberta was saying, I’ve never encountered a dog owner who thinks their dog barks when they’re not there, or who will believe you when you say that the dog barks when they’re not there.
What you do is get your evidence, record the dog, take a diary, and then go to Fair Trading for mediation, because you’ll need that before you ever go any further with the Tribunal. At that point, maybe the dog owner will start taking things seriously. There are things like little collars they can have and when they bark, they spray them with something that’s you know, it’s not dangerous…
I think it’s a gin and tonic.
But then you find you’re making the dog bark!
So you can have a gin and tonic. There are various techniques that can be being employed.
I think we’ll do this at some other point; we’ll take a look at some of the rules around the assistance animals, the official animals. What are the rules around that?
Roberta might also be alluding to the fact that you can’t simply declare that this is a therapy animal. I’m mindful of how important that can be but there’s a process that needs to go along with that. This is a sort of good general point, but it goes towards the pet issue… ‘James, I really don’t understand why there isn’t more responsibility on the purchaser of the apartment. Are they not responsible for researching the strata rules before purchasing the apartment? I agree with those who choose their building because it’s a pet-free and are now frustrated by one person moving into the pet-free building and start demanding that they be allowed to have pets. It’s like moving to a suburb under the flight path and complaining about the aircraft noise.’ How does strata deal with this, insisting that you have read the strata rules of the apartment before you move in?
Look, I’m very pro-pet. In fact, the whole of Flat Chat started because we moved into an apartment building we were told was pet-friendly and then the first chairman said, ‘right, we’re gonna get rid of that bylaw for a start,’ and that’s that set off the whole chain of events that has led to me sitting here today.
And you still haven’t got an answer!
But I sympathize with people who, for either personal, religious reasons or health reasons, have sought out an apartment block that does not allow pets. I think I think the key thing is well, when was the last time that building actually took a poll of the owners and said, ‘do you still think we shouldn’t have pets?’ The thing about; yeah, it’s right, you know, do your research, see what the building allows or doesn’t allow. You shouldn’t try and impose yourself on the building and as I often say, the building will change you, before you change the building. But it’s an organic thing; it changes, we evolve.
But looking at it back from the other way, how does a building, a seller; the world of strata in general, make the point to someone buying, that you should read the rules of the building that you’re buying into. I suppose, I’m thinking of another way of looking at this, that it would be a good idea if all strata rules, put the six ones that matter on the front page. Don’t bury it as 14.2. No.1: No pets. No.2: Visitor parking. You know, the stuff that that is contentious (that comes up time and time again), put your rules about that on the very front of your strata agreement.
I suggested this to one of the conga lines of Fair-Trading ministers we’ve had in the last few years and the response was, ‘but if you do that, then people will say, “well, the other ones don’t matter.”’ People being people, that could be true, but I think you’re right. I think you put it right in the front. You say, ‘we call the cops if you’re noisy; we support pet owners, or we don’t support pet owners.’ You know, ‘we deal with barking dogs.’
‘Before you buy in here, take a look at 12.4, 13.1, 18.6 (underlined).’ I know myself; I am not a great reader of the terms and conditions. I am not a great reader of the contract detail. I will tend to look at somebody else and ‘go anything in here I need to worry about?’ rather than read it for myself. That’s laziness, and I’m wrong, but its common behavior.
Especially the way bylaws are laid out; they do tend to be written in very legalese language because they are written by lawyers a lot of the time, but if you just had those key points for that building; ‘we prosecute bad parking,’ you know, that kind of thing.
‘We will clamp, we will do this… Replacement keys are $400.’ Grant, what did you want to bring up?
Those last couple of points are quite good about the parking and stuff because we’ve had the same problem in the strata I live in, where you’ve got one car spot for various places, and they seem to always park in the visitor spots. We allow one animal, and we’ve had people that have brought in two animals, and I think the big problem is also the real estate agent. They don’t seem to pass stuff onto the tenants.
I see, so when you’re renting out, people will move in and you feel as though the tenant didn’t know that they were only meant to have one dog?
Yeah. The place I live in has got 33 units, and we have, I think, roughly 10 owners living in there, so we’ve got roughly 20 apartments that are rented out and a variety of animals. I love animals; I’ve got no problem with animals, but one apartment’s got two freaking little yappy dogs, and basically every time they’ve been contacted, they go, ‘it’s okay, it’s only a visiting dog;’ you know, ‘it’s my mum’s dog or I’m looking after it for somebody today.’
Yeah, the old ‘mum’s dog.’
These are the issues, aren’t they? There’d be a lot of people saying, “yeah, we tried that, and as soon as we allowed one pet, somebody said, ‘well, I have to have the two dogs because they’ve all grown up together and that’s a more responsible way to look after dogs and cats, is to have two,’” and etc.
Absolutely. People will say dogs are social animals and if you want to have a problem, restrict it to one dog.
Yeah, that’s right. That’s when you get your barking dog.
Some people do a dog and a cat and because they’ve got companionship, they’re okay.
Then they take cute photos of them together and put it on YouTube.
Or even my website.
On your website, go ‘look, see, dogs and cats can get together.’ I’m going to read this out because it’s a dog owner who admitted that their dog cried. I did not realize that my dog cried for me until I went upstairs to a body corporate meeting and heard him. Can you imagine the satisfaction of everybody else at the body corporate meeting, going, ‘would that be your dog, we’ve been talking about?’
I solved this with my neighbor across the passageway, who loved my dog, but didn’t want to keep his own. So, my dog now goes next door for morning and afternoon tea; comes home for a sleep after that. Everyone happy; no more crying. Thank you, a dog owner for saying that.
I’ve got a cat that cries when my wife leaves. Even though I’m sitting there. I have to say to her ‘I’m here,’ and she goes ‘oh, alright.’
You know, come on. Like, you don’t really care about me… You’re not really my human.
She does things like walking in front of Sue’s screen and wiping whatever’s…
Suddenly, the tail is underlined…
She likes being screamed at.
Grant, thanks for your call and thanks for those who called, www.flatchat.com.au if you want to follow up on this and any other issues.
Perhaps the take-away from that is the laws are not settled yet in New South Wales; perhaps the ACT but check and figure out what’s going on in any of these areas, Mr. Thomson, thank you so much.