Fighting for the right to keep pets in strata

My name is Jo Cooper and I’m a Sydney musician, soul singer and songwriter, published author and passionate advocate for animal, property rights and anti-bullying/abuse.
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Photo credit: Nic Walker 

I fought a six-year legal battle for the right to keep our beautiful Miniature Schnauzer, Angus, and other pets in their strata homes. During that time, I experienced an intense hate campaign towards me and even my dog. I didn’t give up because I was fighting for my family and what was right over what was easy.

People tried to kick Angus, spat at him. I’ve been physically and verbally assaulted.

People look at pets as an accessory. They’re not, they are family. You would fight for your family, and this is no different.

In October 2020, I was successful in the NSW Court of Appeal which overturned the right of strata schemes to create bylaws prohibiting animals. On 24 Aug 2021, NSW Parliament passed legislation preventing strata from enforcing a blanket ban on animals to reflect the NSW Court of Appeal decision. This means if a landlord says you can have two dogs, for example, strata cannot override that decision, unless the animal negatively interferes with another lot.

I was receiving message after message from people about their pets and what the court ruling meant for them. I was in tears of joy and sadness at how these people were living. I remember one lady told me she and her daughter lived with their cat ‘illegally’, and the cat was a great benefit to her daughter. They were so scared that somebody would dob them in that they lived one year with the blinds rolled down. The lady said, after we read your court win, we proudly rolled our blinds back up.

The law has certainly made a difference for many pet owners/renters, but I know there’s still a lot more work to be done!

Many real estate agents have not caught up with the law. Charging renters, a pet bond is illegal in NSW and a lot of renters do not know this. Real estate agents have an obligation to inform them, but they aren’t. They are instead taking advantage of pet owners who are desperate to find a home.

Unfortunately, the law is also still being ignored or flouted by many owners’ corporations and strata managers.

I’ve been inundated with calls and messages from distraught pet owners. What was a clear win for pet owners in apartments is being ignored, flouted and in some cases perversely being used to punish them. Some schemes are even charging owners a non-refundable fee to have a pet in their own home, which is an abuse of power and obstruction of law.

Sadly, Angus passed away late last year from old age. He was 15 and has left a legacy that not many dogs have.

Angus was the best. He didn’t cause a stir for anyone. The minute he walked out of the apartment, he owned the streets. Angus commanded his presence. He wanted to say hello to everybody. It got to the point where people stopped me and wanted photos with him. Angus would stand there for photos and then pull me like he had a place to be – at the local café for a bacon treat!

Winning the landmark case and hearing so many stories, gave me the idea to publish a coffee table book called Paws and Order featuring stories of pets living in apartments to help raise funds to fight bullying in strata.  I am now working on a second book about my David and Goliath battle to change the law and starting to get back into my music – my happy place and livelihood.

I am also lobbying for legislative change, for a code of conduct and legal accountability and liability for strata committees. Angus will always be part of my story for positive change. He is deeply missed.

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