The conventional wisdom is that the three biggest problems in strata communities are pets, parking and people. Earlier this month on, 1 October 2022, one of those got even more confusing and divisive.
Residential tenancies laws have changed. Tenants will be able to ask their landlord for permission to keep a pet. If the landlord doesn’t respond within 14 days, it is deemed approved.
Layered over all of this will be body corporate by-laws, and the requirement for body corporate approval to keep pets. Many tenants will either overlook or ignore this ongoing requirement in the excitement of taking up the benefit of these changes. Strata managers and committees would do well to remind residents and investor-owners of the by-laws.
Changes to the RTRAA
From 1 October 2022, the following changes to the Residential Tenancies and Rooming Accommodation Act 2008 (RTRAA) have taken effect:
- a tenant can make a request for permission to keep a pet in the approved form;
- if the landlord does not respond within 14 days, then the application is presumed to be approved and the consent is implied;
- if the landlord approves the request, then they may impose conditions of approval if those reasons are relevant and reasonably required;
- if the landlord refuses the application, they must specify the ground/s for refusal;
- if a refusal, the tenant may dispute that to the Queensland Civil and Administrative Tribunal.
The permissible grounds for refusal are:
- keeping the pet would exceed a reasonable number of animals being kept at the premises;
- the premises are unsuitable for keeping the pet because of a lack of appropriate fencing, open space or another thing necessary to humanely accommodate the pet;
- keeping the pet is likely to cause damage to the premises or inclusions that could not practicably be repaired for a cost that is less than the amount of the rental bond for the premises;
- keeping the pet would pose an unacceptable risk to the health and safety of a person, including, for example, because the pet is venomous;
- keeping the pet would contravene a law;
- keeping the pet would contravene a body corporate by-law or park rule applying to the premises;
- the tenant has not agreed to the reasonable conditions proposed by the lessor for approval to keep the pet;
- the animal stated in the request is not a pet.
The biggest difficulty caused in all of this will be the deemed approval if the landlord doesn’t respond within 14 days. There may communication problems between the owner and the agent. The landlord may be on a holiday in the Amazon. The landlord may just be busy…
14 days isn’t a long time. But in the eyes of the legislators, it is long enough for a landlord to decide whether to approve the pet or not.
Strata managers and real estate agents would do well to assist investor-owners will precedent sets of conditions to make the landlord’s decision as easy as possible, along with helpful information to enable them to quickly consider whether there are reasonable grounds for a refusal, such as whether:
- local laws imposed by the local council limits the number of pets permitted in the property;
- the scheme’s by-laws require body corporate approval before the pet is brought into the property.
What does this mean for bodies corporate?
On a proper view of this legislation and how it interacts with strata law – nothing. It should be business as usual. But it won’t be business as usual.
In their excitement upon learning of these new laws, tenants will apply for approvals, and some may be counting down that 14 days as though Christmas is just around the corner.
If on the 15th day the landlord hasn’t responded, they may be strutting about like they are Ace Ventura.
The tenant may have overlooked this line in the RTA’s guide on these changes:
“Note that your ability to keep a pet may be subject to body corporate by-laws, house rules, or other laws relating to keeping animals such as local council laws.”
If the tenant lives in a strata scheme and there is a by-law that requires body corporate approval before a pet is brought onto scheme land – they still need to comply with that by-law.
Despite these changes, it remains business as usual: a tenant needs landlord and body corporate approval (if there is a by-law) to keep a pet. These changes simply streamline the process to obtain landlord approval and narrow the grounds for a landlord’s refusal. They don’t change the process for obtaining body corporate approval.
So it should be business as usual for strata communities, in the sense that:
- if there is a by-law in place, the tenant still needs body corporate approval; and
- many tenants may continue to subscribe to the belief that it is better to beg for forgiveness than ask for permission.
Our recommendations are:
- For the landlords and letting agents: entry condition reports just got so much more important. Consider imposing a condition of approval for any pet request that a further condition report is carried out before the pet comes into the property.
- For the tenants: don’t take the amendments to the RTRAA as being the green light to bring a pet into the building. Value a good relationship with your landlord, your neighbours and the body corporate by asking permission before you bring the pet into the property.
- For the committees, strata managers and building managers: it is business as usual except for the potential for these changes to create misunderstandings. These can hopefully be prevented by communicating proactively with tenants. Acknowledge the impending changes and remind them of the by-laws.
- For my fellow reptile-enthusiasts: we may continue to be marginalised! The definition of pet in the RTRAA extends to a domesticated animal or an animal that is dependent on a person for the provision of food and shelter. I believe my Murray-Darling Carpet Python – Hannibal – is dependent on me. At least that is what I would argue if I were a tenant of a strata unit…
This article was contributed by Jason Carlson, Partner at Grace Lawyers