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Can I keep a cat in a rented apartment?

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I have moved into an apartment with my cat. My neighbours say the body corporate rules prevent pets from living there. I am renting. What can I do?

It may sound unreasonable, as you know your pet well and know it causes no problems, but the rules of tenancy say you are obliged to check the strata scheme's by-laws as to whether you can keep a pet (other than a fish) in the apartment.

You should also get your landlord's approval before moving your pet in. This can be negotiated through the managing agent.

Most strata schemes have standard by-law 16 or one similar which stipulates that an owner or occupier must not keep an animal on the premises unless they have the written permission of the owners' corporation.

This by-law also provides that the owners' corporation must not unreasonably refuse permission to keep an animal. However, some schemes opt for a "no animals" by-law that prevents owners from keeping any animal except for a guide dog and these places should be avoided if you are a pet lover.

Moreover, there is no clear definition of "unreasonably" and a lot will depend on individual circumstances and the behaviour of the pet to be weighed up at a mediation.

This can be done through the Fair Trading office in your state. Fees tend to be minimal for this process: in NSW, it is $76, or $5 for pensioners and students. The processing of an application usually takes two to three weeks.

Well, I have moved in with my pet, so what now?

If you have moved in and failed to negotiate the pet living with you and the lease says you cannot have a pet, you are in a difficult spot. You should go cap in hand to the owners' corporation with a written case for why you should be able to keep your pet with you.

It may be you have an old pet that has been with you for years and that you rely on for company. You can argue that the pet makes no noise and doesn't smell or foul the common areas, bark or yowl in the night or bite neighbours. Cats and small, quiet dogs tend to be easier to push through this process than a large, noisier dog like a German shepherd or ridgeback.

But the owners' corporation can still issue you with a notice to comply with the animals by-law. If you don't comply, you may face penalties for non-compliance plus an order to remove the pet.

If you decide to quit the lease, it helps that if before signing and taking possession of the strata scheme premises you have ensured that your lease is made conditional on the owners' corporation consent being granted and that you will be permitted to terminate the lease and vacate the premises within a reasonable amount of time without penalty if the consent is refused.

Reading your lease agreement before moving in and negotiating with the body corporate ahead of moving in is essential.

As part of the process of getting acceptance for your pet, you could demonstrate to the secretary of the owners' corporation how clean and quiet your pet is.

As far as your landlord is concerned, it's also a good move to offer to make good any damage, such as scratched doors and worn carpet, that might be pet-related.

The landlord is not entitled to ask for a higher bond to cover any pet-inflicted damage, but you might offer a higher amount.

You could also invite your landlord to inspect your apartment every six months or so to keep him/her happy.

I have bought an apartment and have taken my pet with me. Do I have a right to keep it?

As with leases, you need to read the owners' corporation rules in regard to keeping pets in the strata or company ownership scheme before you buy. It is important to read the contract of sale carefully and not rely on the selling agent's word on pets in the building.

As with a tenancy, you must obtain the written approval of the owners' corporation. Write to the secretary asking to keep your pet.

Detail its disposition (quiet, doesn't scratch), how friendly and docile it is, whether it has undergone any behavioural training, how long you have had it, whether it has been registered, that it has been well cared for, chipped, de-sexed, vaccinated and registered.

It may help to provide references from former neighbours. It might help to invite the secretary to your apartment for tea or a glass of wine so you can demonstrate how well your pet is behaved.

I think it is unreasonable that approval for my pet is refused after putting up a good case. What are my options?

As with a lease, you can request mediation with Fair Trading. For more details, contact the Fair Trading office in your state.

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