How Angus the miniature schnauzer overcame the strata committee

After four and a half years (or about 30ish dog years), the NSW Court of Appeal (NSWCA) likely paws-ed before handing down its judgment concerning Angus, a then-13-year-old mini schnauzer.

Angus’ owners, Jo, and Lee Cooper sought to have a strata by-law forbidding pets in their prestige high-rise apartment quashed in accordance with the powers in s 150 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 (NSW) on ground it was “harsh, oppressive or unconscionable” under s 139(1). At first instance, NCAT agreed with the Coopers.

However, that decision was overturned on appeal, prompting the Coopers’ to pursue the matter to the NSWCA – where they were ultimately successful.

Cooper is important as a reminder to strata committees and communities that strata by-laws must have reasonable limits, and that such laws ought to maintain “a rational connection with the enjoyment of other lots and the common property” [Cooper at 61]. It is not acceptable to run any sort of “majoritarian dictatorship” [at 48] despite the beliefs of many strata el presidents who rule their schemes using fear, proxy votes, and fervour.

Adding strength to this judgment, NSW subsequently enacted the Strata Schemes Management Amendment (Sustainability Infrastructure) Act 2021 (NSW), which provides that owners and corporations will not be able to unreasonably deny permission for residents to have pets.

One newly adopted scheme to circumvent the Cooper decision has been domination over the strata community pet approval or application process. This avoids the outright blanket ban by requiring pet-owner applicants to apply to the strata committee, providing references for their pet, and requesting approval for the pet to stay.

Ostensibly, this weeds out the loud and fearsome troublemaker pets, but in reality, it can be a blanket ban by proxy as committees deny, deny and deny to continue their majoritarian rule.

Cooper v The Owners — Strata Plan No 58068 [2020] NSWCA 250

For more on the Cooper decision, and on the powers and operations of strata committees check out the Hearsay: The Legal Podcast episode featuring Marcus Carbone and Robert Pietriche. Hearsay allows Australian lawyers to claim their CPD, their way – all on the go.

By: Tim Edmeades, Paralegal

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