From being fined for feeding stray dogs to being restricted from common areas – pet parents living in many Bengaluru apartments are struggling.

A person kneeling on grass petting a dog Image for representation. Jarmoluk/Pixabay
news Pets Saturday, April 10, 2021 - 18:25

Ajay Fernandes’s tenants in Sarma Gardens Apartments in Bengaluru’s Richards Town have been in a difficult position for a few months now. The couple, their 20-month-old infant and their dog have allegedly been denied common services such as the security guard opening the gate for their vehicle and collection of trash from their home since February this year. The root of the issue appears to be that they have a pet.

Ajay told TNM that since 2019, many of the others living in the building have been opposed to people with pet dogs. “They formed an association, where I was the only person who objected to them wanting to discourage dogs in the apartment complex, and to have an additional 20% charge over and above the maintenance everyone is paying if the residents or tenants have a pet dog. I did not agree to this, and said I will not pay as this is discriminatory treatment,” he said.

The flat in question belongs to Ajay’s parents, and he has the power of attorney to administer matters of the flat. Ajay tells TNM that he has paid the standard amount for maintenance. “It is not a matter of money, but a matter of principle. I even wanted to take the matter to court, to get an injunction against them implementing this rule. But after I mentioned this, the building association got a caveat, which now prevents me from getting an injunction.”

Meanwhile, Devika Johnson, the President of the Sarma Gardens Apartment Owners Welfare Association stated that there was no restriction on usage of common areas by pets or people. “Our apartment complex is a small one and does not have large common areas. The association needs to keep these common areas clean as it is used by one and all in the complex. The defecation by the pets needs to be cleaned and the housekeeping staff has to be paid extra for this, therefore the additional cost needs to be borne by the pet parents.”

When asked about withdrawal of common services like garbage collection from Ajay’s tenants, Devika responded, “The owners of [the flat] have not paid the maintenance charges in full and hence punitive action is taken by the Association as per the byelaws. The owners of the apartment have no commitment to the wellbeing of the association and are using their flat purely for commercial benefit.”

However, Ajay pointed out that the bye-laws for demanding an additional maintenance charge from pet parents are against the Animal Welfare Board of India’s (AWBI) guidelines from 2015. The guidelines state that Resident Welfare Associations (RWA) or Apartment Owners Associations (AOA) cannot have byelaws to ban pets, or to limit their numbers and doing so would interfere with a fundamental right, i.e., the freedom a person has “to choose the life they wish to live which includes facets such as living with or without companion animals.” 

But Devika points out that these are guidelines, and that the association has written to the AWBI asking for the Board to provide judgments or laws against charging pet parents an additional amount as a monthly maintenance. 

Ajay says that he may go to the High Court to appeal against this rule. However, he and his tenants are not the only ones in Bengaluru who face arguably differential treatment and restrictions because they have pet dogs. 

Discriminatory rules, restrictions

Samarth*, a resident at a Malleshwaram unit of a renowned chain of apartment complexes in Bengaluru, tells TNM, “There is not a separate place in the premises for our pets and we have to go out on the road. One has to get off at the basement level and walk the dog. The pet owners are a minority here – there are only 10-20 of us against 450 other residents.”   

At another gated community at Akshayanagar in Bengaluru, resident Souvik Das has a similar story. “The Executive Committee, who run the RWA, term themselves as ‘pet-neutral’. They have banned us from taking our pets to every common area and parks within our gated community. Even after repeated pleading and requests to allow pets for some specific time into these parks, they have steadfastly declined. However, they are still taking maintenance fees for the upkeep of these parks from us - even though we are not allowed to enter these parks with our pets,” he says.

At both Samarth and Souvik’s apartment complexes, pets are not allowed in lifts. While at Samarth’s place of residence pets can only use service lifts, Souvik alleges that objections range from “pet’s odours are harmful for human health” to “pets are dirty” to “they will pounce and growl at us” if they are taken in lifts.

The AWBI’s 2015 guidelines specifically state that RWAs and owners’ associations “cannot disallow pets from the use of lifts; and no charges can be imposed by them either.” The guidelines also state that banning pets from gardens or parks is “short-sighted”, because, one, a person may not have any manner of right over the garden or park, and secondly, because pets that are not properly exercised may become aggressive in frustration which is counter-productive to residents’ welfare. The guidelines say that it would be better to come to a consensus over timings for pets to use these areas without inconvenience to others.

In some cases, apartments have also been known to discourage or even harass those who feed stray animals. Swagata Paul, who lives in a gated community near Thanisandra, has faced threats, including those of physical harm, as she and her husband feed the 5-6 stray dogs in the locality. In Samarth’s apartment complex too, the owners’ association released a circular prohibiting people from feeding stray cats and pigeons. “By artificially feeding cats and pigeons, they think that they are being kind and compassionate. They don’t recognise that it is adding to the woes of residents and housekeeping staff. Actually, feeding them is not necessary. They know how to take care of themselves,” the circular read. It further says that CCTV cameras may be installed if needed to curb such activities, and Rs 1000 fine will be imposed on violators.

These rules are imposed despite the Karnataka government having issued guidelines to RWAs and AOAs regarding pet and stray animals dated June 13, 2020. These are similar to the 2015 AWBI guidelines in many respects, and explicitly state that no RWA or AOA can "interfere with a resident's freedom to feed a stray animal." Karnataka's guidelines also say that "in the absense of any state or central laws requiring cleaning ot pet excreta by pet owners, RWA or AOAs cannot impose any rule, regulation, or bye-law" about it, or ask the pwt parents to pay extra. The bodies can, however, request pet parents to pick up after their pet animals.

Incidentally, Article 51A(g) of the Indian Constitution deems it a fundamental duty of a citizen of India to have compassion for living creatures; apart from protecting and improving the natural environment such as forests, lakes, rivers and wildlife.

A middle ground

Tanisha, a resident of an apartment complex on Kanakapura Road, has known the woes of being a tenant having pet dogs and facing differential treatment far too well. She says that it was one of the main reasons she and her husband decided to buy their own place. “We fought and worked hard to frame the rules for our apartment as pet-friendly without impinging on other residents’ convenience.”

She adds that they drew heavily from AWBI’s guidelines, and included rules such as the following: that people will have to provide documents verifying the vaccination status of their pet; while there is no restriction on movement, common cares like swimming pool, tennis court should be avoided; pets must be leashed and people should clean up after their pets where they poop; and people can use the lift with their pets, but should ensure that if they are travelling with someone, the other person is comfortable. If the co-passenger is scared or uncomfortable, the people with pets should let them go, and call the lift again. Pets like cats are not permitted outside the house in this apartment, and pet parents must also provide registration documents of the animal.

With these, Tanisha said, they were able to reach a middle-ground where they respected those who did not have a preference for pet animals or were scared of them, but pet parents did not have unfair restrictions on them. “We left some rules such as a fine if pet poop is left uncleaned in some areas as a check on pet parents too. Pet parents also need to take responsibility and not push it off on the maintenance staff,” she said.

Both Swagata and Tanisha say people must also take care to not impose their pets on others, as not everyone can be comfortable, no matter how friendly the animal. That being said, some people who TNM spoke to agreed that in many cases, even when they have offered to be responsible, they have faced unreasonable hostility from fellow residents towards having a pet. “There need to be stricter penalties under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act also, so that people who do not follow AWBI guidelines or are pet-unfriendly can also be held accountable,” Swagata says.

*Name changed

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