Dog ‘wins right’ to live in upscale apartment
Sydney soul singer Jo Cooper and her mild-mannered miniature schnauzer might have won the legal right for him to openly live out his twilight years in Sydney's upscale Horizon apartment tower, but their battle isn't over yet.
In a dog-eat-dog court battle, an appeal by the Horizon Owners Corporation has been launched against that decision and now Ms Cooper and 13-year-old Angus, who is now half blind and half deaf, are fighting that appeal.
And in the process, Ms Cooper is also pushing for reforms to "harsh, unconscionable and oppressive" strata laws blanket-banning all pets - even if they are impeccably behaved.
Ms Cooper's fight for Angus to live with her in the Harry Seidler-designed building is being seen as a test case.
But according to Ms Cooper it ended up "not being about the dog but about bullying".
"I did not set out for a wrestling match, I just wanted a fair chance for change," she said.
"I believe this fell in my lap for a reason, and I have to stand up and do something about it."
Trouble started for Ms Cooper when she bought into the award-winning Darlinghurst building which overlooks Sydney Harbour in 2015.
After discovering the hard-line pet ban, she left Angus living with her sister while she "did the right thing" and sought permission for Angus to move in.
Ms Cooper was told by fellow residents there were dozens of cats and dogs already living in The Horizon and if she hid Angus, like other owners did, nothing would be said.
But Ms Cooper didn't want to sneak through the Horizon lobby with Angus stuffed in a bag so she put a motion at an extraordinary general meeting asking for permission for him to move in.
"In the following months I received verbal abuse, a racial slur and threats made against me from individuals living in the Horizon. All I had done at this point was submit a motion. I could not believe the level of hostility…," Ms Cooper said.
"Some have sought to make this a personal issue: apparently for some people it's not about the dog, it's about my attitude. I have been threatened, abused, harassed, and spoken of and to in a derogatory manner."
The harassment against Ms Cooper and Angus has escalated in recent days and police have been called in to investigate a litany of incidents against Ms Cooper stretching back five years.
Ms Cooper is also having to deal with the stress of the case and the possibility Angus would have to live elsewhere if the appeal is successful.
After a number of attempts at mediation by Ms Cooper, The Owners Corporation took Ms Cooper to the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal in 2019 over her bid to have Angus live with her and it lost the case.
The NCAT Senior Member Gregory Burton SC, ruled that given Angus's personality, behaviour and the type of pet that he was (highly-trained, desexed, vaccinated, parasite-free, hypo-allergenic, non-shedding, extremely friendly, family-oriented and good with children, does not bark and is always leashed") it was harsh, unconscionable and oppressive to simply ban and seek to expel his type of pet under a blanket prohibition.
The Tribunal ruled in favour of Ms Cooper and has now awarded costs against the Owners Corporation. Now the Owners Corporation is appealing the decision and the costs order and the case will go back to court this month.
Lawyers for Ms Cooper, Bannermans, have described the decision as the longest and most comprehensive on pet by-laws in NSW so far.
In Victoria changes have already been made to strata laws ensuring that landlords must not unreasonably refuse tenants requests to keep pets.
"The decisions on pet by-laws in the Tribunal indicate that the Tribunal will most likely invalidate a 'no pets' by-law. Therefore.....most strata schemes would be better served in having a by-law that allows pets subject to certain conditions and criteria.
"Our experience with pet disputes is that they are always divisive, extremely personal and fiercely contested," Bannermans have written about the case.
By all accounts, Angus has been better behaved than some of the residents who Ms Cooper said have racially abused her.
"I have been called low-class, a disgrace, and a stupid little brown girl."
"All I wanted to do was the right thing and they have gone after my character making me the subject of cafe gossip."
Ms Cooper has made submissions, including suggestions for anti-discrimination clauses and a code of conduct for strata committees, to the Minister for Regulation and Better Innovation Kevin Anderson.
Mr Anderson replied saying aspects of her case will be considered in a statutory review of the Strata Schemes Management Act 2015, later this year.
Originally published as Dog 'wins right' to live in upscale apartment