A recent news headline announced that a new ruling found that body corporates in sectional titles can’t discriminate between cats and dogs.

A woman in a Centurion, Gauteng, complex approached the Community Schemes Ombud Service (CSOS) when she was barred from getting a kitten in a complex that allowed dogs. According to the CSOS, the cat ban was unreasonable and discriminated against not only cats, but cat-loving pet owners.

Marina Constas, a specialist sectional title attorney and director of BBM Law, says that this award isn’t legally binding and doesn’t set a precedent for all owners across the country – so each application to have pets would still need to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

We spoke to Dr. Trudie Prinsloo, veterinarian and owner of LegalVet, to determine what pet owners in sectional titles can do if their pet application is rejected and whether trustees can force pet owners to get rid of their pets.

What regulations govern pet ownership in sectional titles?

The Prescribed Conduct Rules in the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Regulations (published in terms of the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act, No. 8 of 2011) have been developed for this, and they apply to all persons residing in sectional title complexes.

Trustees of a body corporate may change these rules and register their own rules, but there are strict conditions that they must adhere to when doing that.

The Prescribed Conduct Rules determines that anyone who wants to keep a pet in a sectional title complex must first get written consent from the trustees.  If the trustees give consent to keep a pet, they may also provide reasonable conditions for that. The Rules also stipulates that the trustees may withdraw the consent if a person fails to adhere to the required conditions.

What if the trustees of the body corporate reject your pet application?

The Prescribed Conduct Rules specifically stipulate that the trustees may not unreasonably withhold consent.

In the case of Body Corporate of The Laguna Ridge Scheme No 152/1987 v Dorse 1999 (2) SA 512 (D), the Court held that the body corporate could not reject a request based on a general policy, but that the trustees of the body corporate had to consider the merits of each application individually.

If your request to keep a pet is rejected and you feel that it has been done without good reason, you can approach the CSOS or a court of law in relevant circumstances.

What about assistance animals for people with disabilities?

There is a special provision in the Prescribed Conduct Rules for people with disabilities that reasonably require the help of a service pet.

Such people can assume that they have the trustees' consent to keep the pet. It is unlikely that assumed consent will be withdrawn unless the pet is an extreme nuisance to other occupants of the scheme.

Can the body corporate force you to get rid of your pet if it misbehaves?

Trustees may withdraw the consent if the conditions on which consent was given are breached.

It is a general principle that nuisance to other residents must always be avoided. If your pet is a nuisance to other people, the body corporate will be within their right to revoke the consent.  However, consent may not be withdrawn unreasonably.

It must first be established that there was indeed a breach of the conditions. An owner must then be given notice of the breach and must be allowed to correct the situation. If that is not done, proper procedures must be followed before the consent is officially withdrawn. An owner must be given written notice of the withdrawal of the consent. Furthermore, the owner must be given reasonable time to make alternative arrangements for the pet.

If an owner refuses to remove a pet after the consent has been withdrawn, the body corporate may not remove the pet themselves but must approach the CSOS and declare a dispute against the owner. Owners who feel that the withdrawal of the consent was unreasonable may also approach the CSOS or a court of law.

Can your body corporate force you to get rid of your pet if the complex rules changes?

The body corporate may amend, add to, or change its rules, but it must be done within the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act and Regulations requirements.

If the amendment is successfully registered, it will apply to all future owners and applications to keep pets. It would likely be seen as unreasonable to withdraw existing consents without any breaches of the existing conditions.

If the body corporate does withdraw existing consents, owners should approach the CSOS for assistance.

Who can you approach if you feel aggrieved by the body corporate ruling?

The body corporate trustees must always act within the law and specifically the Sectional Titles Schemes Management Act and Regulations.

If they do not adhere to that, an aggrieved person can approach the CSOS, or in very serious cases where it is merited, a court of law can be approached. There have been several cases where individuals have been successful in their actions against the trustees of body corporates both at the CSOS and in our courts.

However, litigation is expensive, and even though the CSOS is a far cheaper alternative, these disputes usually cause anguish and stress for everyone involved. It is far better to avoid this.

If you own a pet and consider moving to a sectional title complex, please make sure that you know the rules of the complex and make sure that you will be able to comply with the conditions before you sign a contract.