battle over by-law changes
A Gold Coast couple recently spent a large amount of money on a legal battle to ensure that they could continue to keep their pet dog in their high-rise apartment. Bente and Warren Tutton bought their multimillion-dollar apartment because it was pet-friendly. They kept their Maltese-Shih Tzu cross, Bernie, without issue until changes to the membership of the body corporate resulted in a number of “anti-pet” residents campaigning to change the by-laws to ban pets.
“We were alarmed to discover that as few as 17% of the lot owners can change a by-law,” said Warren. “It’s generally known that a two-thirds majority vote is required to change any by-law, but what is not so widely known is that it’s actually only a two-thirds majority of a quorum.” As an example, in the Tuttons’ building of 102 lot owners, a quorum is only 25% of the lot owners; therefore, two-thirds of 25% is only 17 votes. The Tuttons soon found out the hard way that 17 residents could dramatically change their lifestyle.
The vote to change the original by-law banned any future pets from entering the building, but did not make the Tuttons give up their pet. It did, however, ban the Tuttons from replacing Bernie and also banned them from selling their unit to a pet owner. “We’ve completed a fair amount of research on this issue and have testimony from the largest real estate agents in the country that have declared that pet-friendly buildings attract a premium price by as much as 10%,” states Warren. “Therefore, if one looks at what the anti-pet mob did, it potentially reduced the selling price of our unit by as much as 10%, which in our case is almost half million dollars!”
By-laws cannot be illegally changed, but in the Tuttons’ case, the pet ban was carried out legally. The Tuttons undertook lengthy and expensive legal challenges that only ended when they won an appeal based on a point of law. The result determined that the change to the by-law was unreasonable, and the original pet-friendly by-law was reinstated.
Originally 10 of the 102 units had dogs; after the change to the by-law, there were only two dogs left living in the building. “In our opinion, if a building is advertised and marketed as “pets allowed”, then a vote by 100% of the lot owners should be required to change the by-laws,” said Warren. “Our situation shows that there are several issues which unsuspecting apartment purchasers must look out for if they have a pet."