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Is your strata complex ready for cat containment laws?

August 02, 2021
What does the cat containment law say?

Currently, there are 17 cat containment suburbs in Canberra. These are:

  • Bonner
  • Crace
  • Coombs
  • Denman Prospect
  • Forde
  • Gungahlin Town Centre east
  • Jacka
  • Lawson
  • Macnamara
  • Molonglo
  • Moncrieff
  • Strathnairn
  • The Fair at Watson
  • Throsby
  • Wright
  • Taylor
  • Whitlam

For strata owners in these suburbs, cat containment is already a live issue. But even if you live elsewhere in Canberra, the clock is ticking.

The changed law will apply to all cats acquired on or after 1 July 2022, anywhere in Canberra. If you already have a cat that goes outdoors, they can continue to do so, but if you adopt a second furry friend, that cat will need to be contained. This is in recognition of the fact that it’s difficult to change the habits of existing cats.

If cat containment laws apply to you, your cat must be on your premises 24 hours a day. You are required to take appropriate measures to make sure that your cat can be contained.

This may mean keeping cats indoors at all times, or creating a purpose-built enclosure so that your cats can go outside while still on your property. The enclosure may be in a courtyard if you have one, or on a balcony, if you’re an apartment dweller.

What do strata owners need to do?

First of all, it’s important to know that the law has changed to make strata living more pet friendly.

Under the amended s51A of the Unit Titles (Management) Act 2011, strata unit owners may keep an animal in the unit (or allow a tenant to keep an animal) if they have the consent of the owners’ corporation.

If an owner applies to the owners’ corporation for permission and hasn’t heard back within three weeks, that is taken as consent. If the owners’ corporation does respond in time, they cannot unreasonably withhold consent.

So far, ACAT has shown that they’d need a very compelling reason to refuse consent.

“The example I always use,” says Nicole, “is that you can’t keep a thoroughbred horse in a 6th-floor apartment, but you can keep a miniature pony in a set of townhouses.”

And yes, that latter example really happened. ACAT ruled in favour of an owner who wanted to keep a miniature pony because the evidence would be taken out for exercise.

“Given that precedent, it’s almost impossible to think of a situation where keeping a cat would be denied,” Nicole says.

So an owners’ corporation has to allow cats. Under the new laws, owners have to make sure those cats are contained. It follows that owners’ corporations need to make sure that their policies comply with cat containment laws.

What policies does an owners’ corporation need?

One simple change all owners’ corporations should make is to review their pet approval policy. “If that policy doesn’t specify ‘indoor cats’, it should be updated to say that. Owners’ corporations should not be approving cats that are free to roam since that will breach the cat containment laws,” explains Nicole.

The second thing that owners need to consider is cat containment structures.

“Any structure needs approval by an owners’ corporation,” Nicole says. “A cat enclosure, whether it’s in the courtyard of a townhouse or the balcony of an apartment, is a structure. At the moment, approvals happen on a case-by-case basis. With the change in the cat containment laws, it’s going to be much harder to say no to those enclosures, because you would effectively be preventing an owner from complying with the law.”

Nicole suggests creating an approval policy if one doesn’t already exist. If it does, review it to make sure that it meets the need of owners to keep their cats contained.

She also suggests putting a set of conditions on the approval to make sure any enclosure is visually low impact. Conditions might include:

  • Enclosures should not be higher than the balcony balustrade
  • Enclosures should be built with certain materials: for example, perspex rather than chickenwire
  • Enclosures must be constructed by a professional company

Your policy conditions will depend on the type of strata complex you have. Conditions for apartment balconies might be different from those in townhouses with private gardens. What’s important is that you have a policy that can be enforced consistently across all owners.

Review policies early

The new cat containment law doesn’t come in until 1 July 2022, but time has a way of sneaking upon us.

If you need to update or approve a new policy, you will need to get approval from a majority of owners at an AGM or general meeting. If your complex only has an annual AGM, it’s all the more important that you’re prepared with a draft policy ahead of that date.

As Nicole says: “If you’re not sure if your pet approval policies are suitable, get in touch. If you don’t have a pet approval policy, definitely get in touch! We’ll help you create something that complies with the new laws but still meets the needs of the complex, for example suggesting conditions that you might not have thought of. If you can come up with a draft policy that everyone’s happy with, it makes things a lot easier when you get to the meeting. It’s best to take care of it early and give everyone time to consider the issue, so you don’t get caught out next July when it becomes law.”