By-laws & Pets: what is harsh unconscionable or oppressive?

Ollie puppy eyes

The Strata Schemes Management Act 2015 brought in a new restriction on by-laws. Section 139 (1) states:

“By-laws cannot be unjust. A by-law must not be harsh, unconscionable or oppressive.”

What does this new restriction actually mean? As this is a new limitation on by-laws in NSW it is helpful to look at the ordinary meaning of harsh, unconscionable and oppressive and to consider case law on similar restrictions.

The Macquarie Dictionary (Fourth Ed) gives the following definitions:

harsh adjective 1. Ungentle and unpleasant in action or effect: harsh treatment. 2. Rough to the touch or to any of the senses: a hard surface; a harsh voice. 3. Jarring upon the aesthetic senses; inartistic: his painting was full of harsh lines or clashing colours.

oppressive adjective 1. Burdensome, unjustly harsh, or tyrannical, as a king, taxes, measures, etc. 2. Causing discomfort because uncomfortably great, intense, elaborate, etc.: oppressive heat. 3. distressing or grievous, as sorrows.

unconscionable adjective 1. Unreasonably excessive. 2. Not in accordance with what is just or reasonable: unconscionable behaviour 3. Not guided by conscience; unscrupulous.

These definitions seem simple enough, a by-law must not be unpleasant in action or effect, burdensome, tyrannical or unreasonably excessive however the ordinary meaning needs to be considered with similar case law.

In QLD’s Body Corporate and Community Management Act 1997 there is a similar provision which has the (sensible) caveat that in determining whether the by-law is unreasonable or oppressive regard must be had to the interests of all lot owners and occupiers and the use of the common property.

In QLD there are a number of cases regarding this limitation that focus on “no pets” by-laws. In these cases, where there is a blanket prohibition on pets within a scheme, if there is no consideration of the circumstances of each case (such as the type of building, the age and type of animal, whether it would be likely to cause a nuisance to other lot owners) the by-law is likely to be held to be unreasonable or oppressive. Why? Very simply the blanket prohibition has been found by QCAT (the QLD equivalent of NCAT) to go beyond the power of an owners corporation to regulate the use and enjoyment of a lot.

Arguably, the same reasoning would apply in NSW despite NSW not having an explicit requirement to view the effect of the by-law against the interests of all lot owners and occupiers. What does this mean? A strict prohibition on the keeping of pets within a strata scheme without more may be deemed to be invalid under the new section 139 of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015. Given the attachment that people (myself included) have to their pets I expect this case law to rapidly develop.

Again, cudos to the photographic model, Ollie Dogasaurus.


6 responses to “By-laws & Pets: what is harsh unconscionable or oppressive?

  1. I am an owner of a unit in a block of 40 where only ten units are owner occupiers. I have lived here since 1995. I am about to retire after 53 years of nursing and have been very anxious about this change. I decided that I would buy a very small dog non shedding to keep myself and my husband company. I am a committee member of our Body Corporate and work hard to maintain our building along with fellow committee members To my absolute shock a member of our committee raised objections to my decision and along with three others on our committee of seven have refused to allow the dog. The grounds are – noise, fleas, if raining wet marks on tiles in foyer, possibility of others in block wanting dogs, tenants then running a business of dog minding, our lawn might have staining and garden damaged, if the dog bit someone the Committee would be sued, health risks, allergies to pet fur. Please please can you help me.

      • Hi Allison, I am in a situation where the committee continue to try and bully and intimidate me for trying to change our no pet bylaw. Do you have any advice on this? They have basically poisoned people in the building against me with defamatory comments and stories and I continue to fight it with no logical or adult response. I live in Darlinghurst. Thank you.

      • Hi Catherine, you should persist calmly and with logic. Try not to respond so it becomes a tit for tat situation. If the situation persists you should seek legal advice.

  2. Hi Allison, Im curious, if a strata in NSW had a bylaw that prohibited pets, except for assistant animals, would that be lawful? Would it stand up to challenges?

    • Hi AndyC, I don’t believe it would stand up to a challenge unless there were some exceptionally good reasons that would prevent it from being harsh, unconscionable or oppressive for e.g. the scheme is next to a wildlife sanctuary and there are restrictions on title prohibiting the keeping of cats. Bear in mind that the owners corporation retains the ability to put conditions on the keeping of animals. Allison

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