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MC Explains | Pets in housing societies: What’s allowed and what’s not

The tussle between pet owners and housing societies is a pan-India problem. While pet owners claim that rules framed by housing societies are arbitrary and illegal, Resident welfare associations (RWAs) maintain that the safety of the residents comes first. We decode the rights of the pet owners and how RWAs can go about pets on their premises.

September 15, 2022 / 06:23 AM IST
Representational image.

Representational image.

Several resident welfare associations in Ghaziabad and Noida are up in arms against pet owners and have started to frame guidelines following incidents of dog bites. While pet owners claim that these rules are arbitrary and illegal, RWAs maintain that the safety of the residents comes first.

Here’s a look at the right of individuals to keep pets and the right to file a case if they are harmed by a neighbour’s dog.

The right to keep a pet outlined in Article 51 (G) of the Constitution grants every citizen of India the right to choose to live with or without a companion animal. It also states that people should show compassion towards all living creatures.

Read: The constitution of India

Under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, 1960, the offences outlined under Section 11 (1) (a) include causing unnecessary pain, suffering or injury to an animal. It includes acts like beating, kicking, overriding, overdriving, overloading and torturing the animal as an offence.

Can a housing society ban pets?

Ban on pets is illegal: Under Section 9(k) of Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960, it is illegal for housing societies to pass pet bye-laws that disallow pets, not even if the majority of residents of the society vote for it.

The Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) guidelines make it clear that even if the majority of residents want it, RWAs and Apartment Owners Associations (AOAs) cannot legally introduce any ban on keeping pet dogs

“In trying to ban pets or limit their numbers, RWAs and AOAs interfere with the fundamental freedom guaranteed to citizens of the country, their freedom to live with or without companion animals,” Anjali Sharma, advocate and a former member of AWBI, told Moneycontrol.

Societies cannot prevent people who have pets from renting houses. According to AWBI guidelines, pets cannot be debarred by RWAs from using lifts or parks.

“On the use of common areas in apartment complexes like lifts etc, in November 2021, the Kerala HC based on the principle of shared eco-system held that bye-laws of societies banning access of pets in common areas are illegal and unconstitutional. However, RWAs can impose reasonable restrictions by issuing guidelines, to secure the interest of residents. The Animal Welfare Board in 2015 has issued some guidelines on this subject, which the court held can be used for imposing conditions on pets kept in apartments,” says Sanjay Sen, senior advocate, Supreme Court of India. In the absence of state or central laws, RWAs and AOAs cannot impose rules, fines or regulations on pet owners.

Also read: RWAs Versus Pet Parents: When ‘dog bites man’ makes the headlines

Is dog barking a valid reason for restrictions?

Housing societies also cannot cite dog barking as a valid and compelling reason for any proposed ban or restrictions. The AWBI’s notification also makes it clear that barking is recognised as a natural form of expression for dogs and cannot be used as a reason to ban pets in India. But pet owners should ensure that barking does not cause a nuisance to neighbours, especially at night.

Can RWAs insist on the size of pets?

RWAs cannot insist that ‘small’ sized dogs are acceptable and ‘large’ sized dogs are not. “Neither can they restrict the breed of dogs allowed (for example: Large dog breeds like Great Danes, Saint Bernard etc.). In a nutshell, intimidating a pet owner to abandon a pet is considered abetting a violation of the law.

What are the other guidelines regarding cruelty to pets?

RWAs and AOAs also cannot insist on the use of a muzzle, according to the AWBI guidelines.

The Section 11 (1) (e) of the Prevention of Cruelty to Animal Act, 1960 clearly states that keeping an animal in a place that hampers free movement or confining them in a cage of insufficient size or for that matter failure to allow an animal an opportunity for movement is an offence.

SECTION 11(1)(i) states that even abandoning any animal which renders that animal to suffer pain either due to starvation or thirst is an offence.

Anjali Sharma says that the entire exercise of framing arbitrary regulations against pet owners is illegal.

“AOAs are serviced bodies comprising people who offered their appointment on these bodies voluntarily. They cannot enforce anything which is contrary to the laws of the country. This is a case of taking the law into their own hands without having the legal authority to do so. There is no central or state law that states that you cannot have a dog. It also says that abandoning them is an offence. Societies are making things so difficult that residents may be forced to abandon their pets. This means that they are abetting the commission of an offence by an individual; they are intimidating people to do wrong,” she says.

Can an RWA force a resident to give up his pet?

The AWBI guidelines make it clear that any association that succeeds in intimidating a pet owner into ‘giving up’ or ‘abandoning’ a pet is abetting the violation of the law. They may be aggravating the menace of ownerless animals, which are not accustomed to living on the street, getting involved in and leading to accidents, injuries and deaths.

There have also been cases wherein if pet owners do not pay the fines or penalties imposed by societies, RWAs have punished them by curtailing maintenance services, say some lawyers.

When a pet dog bites or injures a person

If a pet dog bites or injures a person, a criminal complaint can be filed under Sections 287 and 337 of the IPC. However, this is still not a reason for RWAs to frame unreasonable rules. Any rule that is reasonably needed to safeguard people and property is fine but rules that infringe on resident's rights (like pet ban, or what dog to get, can’t use lifts, etc) will be unreasonable and may not stand in court, says Palecanda M Chinnappa, Partner, IndusLaw.

“Each rule will have to be seen in context as to its reasonableness and result sought to be achieved,” he says.

In case a pet dog bites a neighbour or any individual, he or she would have to show that the pet owner was being negligent, that he or she did not provoke the dog, that it was not leashed etc, says Sharma.

Can a pet owner be prosecuted?

Pet owners can be prosecuted and punished if their pet causes injury to another person.

Both criminal and civil action (for damages) can be set into motion. FIR and civil suit for damages can also be filed. People have been convicted under Section 289 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), where the punishment in the form of imprisonment can extend to a period of six months. Apart from the IPC, many local legislations concerning municipal bodies and their functioning also provide for prosecution on this count, says Sen.

Also read: Navi Mumbai housing colony slaps Rs 8 lakh fine on resident for feeding stray dogs inside premises

What is the remedy available to pet owners?

If the RWA or AOAs have framed stringent guidelines that are in variance with the central or state laws, something that forces an individual to give up or abandon his pet, it is a clear case of criminal intimidation under Section 506 of the IPC. “The fact that the RWA is trying to pressurise you or putting forth unlawful demands is a case of criminal intimidation under IPC. Pet owners can approach the registrar of societies and file a complaint that the RWA is not adhering to the law and appropriating power they do not have, and prove that the guidelines imposed are unlawful,” adds Sharma.

Vandana Ramnani
Vandana Ramnani
first published: Sep 15, 2022 06:23 am