Fundamental rules about pets in an apartment building

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Owning a pet can be a wonderful experience. A dog, cat or bird can be a loyal and friendly companion to brighten your days. On the other hand, animals can also be a handful – barking up a storm at night, clawing your furniture, or messing bird food across your entire living room floor. In any situation, we will have to weigh up our love of animals against the effort and cost of maintaining them.

The reality is, in addition, that more and more people are choosing to live in cities, and therefore, in apartment buildings. The need to have pets and the love of animals does not go away with this fact of urbanisation, and we can certainly not expect everyone to give up the privilege of having a pet simply because the live in limited dimensions.

It is a matter that requires significant consideration, however, and there are several legal and practical implications to take into account. Fortunately, we here at homify will help you navigate this decision!

What does the law say?

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In South Africa, every city metro will have its own set of by-laws regarding animals, which will dictate rules and regulations regarding the ownership and possession of domestic pets. Although there may be variances, most cities in the country have largely the same types of by-laws when it comes to pets.

Basically, when it comes to owning animals, you are allowed to have two dogs or two cats older than six months in an apartment, unless you apply for a permit to keep a larger amount. Such permits need to be applied for, and are usually only awarded to pet shops, veterinary clinics, etc.

What this comes down to is that you can technically keep to pets in an apartment, but there are some other restrictions to keep in mind:

-       You cannot keep an animal that howls, barks, meows or screams to such an extent that it causes nuisance or disturbance to neighbours.

-       You are not allowed to keep a pet that suffers from a contagious or infectious disease and is untreated.

-       You cannot keep a pet that is not confined to your own premises at all times (your flat, this case).

Apartment building restrictions

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Besides the laws and statutes of any given metropolitan, you will have to adhere to other rules as well, and that refers primarily to the restrictions of your apartment building.

Whether you own or rent an apartment in a building, there will be a set of rules compiled by the body corporate and to which you must adhere. This must be made available to you before signing your contract, so make sure you read the fine print!

As the by-laws indicate that you are allowed to have a maximum of two pets per dwelling-unit (i.e. a dwelling that is part of a larger building, but being its own entity with a kitchen, sanitary amenities and living space for a single family), the body corporate of an apartment building must justify any reason why you may not be allowed to keep pets in a certain building. This will not be difficult to do, as they can easily say that a dog will cause nuisance to neighbours. This is not always the case, but we will discuss your options a little later on…

Disturbing the peace and public hygiene

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As mentioned above, one of the biggest reasons for the body corporate of an apartment building to disallow the keeping of pets in apartments, is the issue of said pets to cause disturbance to neighbours. This does not only refer to the barking and howling of dogs, but can also be other habits of pets that may be annoying to your neighbours. Think about a cat intruding in neighbours flats regularly, or a bird singing the same tune for several hours a day. Disturbing the peace by means of domestic animals may not only be in breach of your apartment regulations, but is also against all cities’ by-laws.

Another great concern when it comes to apartment buildings, and a probable reason for body corporates to forbid the keeping of pets, is the threat to public hygiene. If your animal gets and infectious or contagious disease, there is no way of controlling the spread of it, and since we live in such close quarters in apartment buildings, this can easily be a disaster.

It is also difficult to control just the general hygiene of pets on a daily basis. Young animals who are not potty-trained can especially give everyone grief. Bad hygiene can attract pests such as rats and cockroaches. It is important to think of the health and safety of your neighbours.  

Other health threats are not so visible, such as the toxoplasma gondii bacteria carried by most cats, resulting in toxoplasmosis, which does not always produce symptoms or is very serious, but it can bring about serious birth defects when pregnant women come in contact with it.

Public spaces

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Now, your apartment building or complex may have a communal are where you’d like to take your pet out to. For example, a courtyard or a pool area. In such a case, there will also be a few things you’ll have to consider.

According to most South African cities’ bylaws, you are not allowed to let your pet harm, attack, or put fear into another person, animal or bird. This means that if you take your pet out into public spaces, whether it be inside your apartment building or not, you will have to be sure that they will behave well towards other people and animals. If you have an aggressive pet, you might want to reconsider living in a flat, or at least find other means of getting it outdoors where there aren’t many others present.

In addition, you are also not allowed to bring a female dog or cat who is in heat into the public. As we are sure you are aware, this can cause chaos if males of the same species are also present in the same space.

What to do in case of threats

So, if you believe you are within the by-laws of your city and not dishonouring any restrictions set by your body corporate, you might think you are well in the clear. Until the busy-body guy from the second floor start threatening that your pet is breaking rules and that he will report you not only to the body corporate, but also to health and safety. This can be a daunting prospect, since if his concerns are deemed valid by either of the parties, you may have to give up your pet or risk having it impounded.

Mostly, such threats are unfounded and lightweight. In case they are not, however, you’ll have to reference your contract and the appropriate by-laws of your city to make sure you’re not doing anything wrong. Then our busy-body can make all the threats he wants, you have done nothing wrong, and can prove it.

When you find yourself in more complex cases, such as owning a pet when the body corporate forbids it, you do not have to despair either. In 1999 a woman won a court case against her body corporate to keep her dog, since this particular animal did not bark at all or become a nuisance to neighbours, which was the reason the keeping of animals there had been forbidden. The court ruled in her favour by saying that a request for permission to keep an animal should be considered on each case’s individual merits, and in this case the animal did not transgress on the rules.

Who to contact in case of threats and complaints

If you are threatened by neighbours regarding complaints about your pet, and you are not too sure about your legal options, you don’t have to tackle the problem alone. Firstly, try and speak to a home owner’s association in your area, that is, if you own the apartment you live in. You can also speak to your real estate agent regarding the issue. 

Also feel free to contact your local government on guidance regarding disputes. There should be advisors that can provide guidance on your situation.

Lastly, there are a number of pro-pet organisations offering information and assistance in dealing with matters such as these, such as Friends of the Dog.

Now that you know all of the legal and practical implications of keeping a pet in an apartment, you can decide whether it is worth it for you. However, let’s all keep in mind the well-being of our animals as well, since the restrictions of a flat may not be the most favourable environment for pets, especially bigger ones. 

If your best friend is of the canine variety, here is how you can: Make your home more dog-friendly!

Was this article helpful? Do you keep an animal in your apartment? Let us know in the comments!
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