Letter from CAIRC
March 2001 Vol.5 No.1

Keeping Pets in Collective Housing
Issues Arising in Preexisting Buildings

Keeping Pets in Preexisting Buildings with Vaguely Worded Regulations

A rapidly growing number of collective housing developments are allowing residents to own pets. In more than a few of these, the physical architecture of the building itself is adapted to pet ownership. These changes are part of a steady change in urban lifestyles toward coexistence between humans and animals. Still, a look at the status of pet ownership at pre-existing collective housing developments makes it clear that progress toward coexistence there is all but smooth. We at the Companion Animal Information and Research Center (CAIRC) are receiving numerous inquiries and requests for consultation from pet owners and management associations.

One conspicuous source of difficulty is vaguely written rules for collective housing developments, which can be so unclear that residents could interpret them in their own way. This lack of clarity is widespread among existing collective housing developments, leading to ongoing conflicts between groups who have differing opinions on how the same rules are to be rendered and applied.

Among the contacts we have received have been those involving situations in which residents have achieved a consensus with neighbors and developed and introduced a standard management procedure for keeping pets in collective housing. By contrast, there are also situations in which the issue of pet ownership has developed into an extremely complex problem. In this newsletter, we will present two such contrasting case studies for close consideration of how collective housing should be managed in the future.

Case Study: Building Community and Taking on Vagueness in Pet Ownership Rules

Seiko Miyajima, Yuko Otoshi, Sayoko Hayashi and Akiko Kobayashi, serve as joint coordinators of the Pet Ownership Association at Park City Honmoku, Yokohama. The 666-unit condominium complex comprises 9 buildings 8 or 12 stories high, and the pet owners' group has a membership of 66 pet owners, with registered companion animals including roughly 70 dogs and 20 cats.

"It was only in April 2000 that we added a 'Pet Management Rules' clause to our regulations," Miyajima explains. "And that was also the starting point for our pet owners' association, so we're clearly still just beginning to build a model framework. In fact, one major anxiety we have is that rather than merely creating a situation in which residents with animals assume they can enjoy 'hassle-free' pet ownership, we want everyone to be aware of the obligations involved — that only responsible pet owners will be allowed to keep them in the building."

"The regulations were vaguely worded, and so pet owners each interpreted them in their own way, and managed their animals accordingly," says Hayashi. "So it's not as though we didn't have grievances to resolve from the outset. The lack of clarity in the rules made us feel in the beginning that we were on very shaky ground.

"That was 6 years ago, and it provided the impetus for a group of us dog owners to voluntarily organize and apply to the residents' association and the housing complex management organization to form the Pet Ownership Association. Since it was not a previously recognized organization, we went through a number of twists and turns, but it may be the fact that it was the product of a gradual accumulation of effort that the result was a good one.

"Initially, the administrative board had a concern that officially recognizing pet ownership would result in an unwelcome increase in the number of animals. We conducted research into the factors behind increases in the number of dogs among our collective housing, and announced the results at their meeting. It turns out that it was an increase in the number of children that was associated with an increase in the number of dogs being kept. Our survey results indicated that in building a community, many residents started keeping dogs to provide an emotionally nurturing environment for children. So we at least gained assent to the idea that residents who kept pets were doing so for valid, well-thought-out reasons.

Of course, just as some residents enjoy the presence of animals, every collective housing development also has residents who feel the opposite way about pets. The results of a 1997 survey apparently show an adverse reaction to pets. But they have been urging pet owners to avoid placing exclusive stress on their own rights. Instead, when grievances arise, they deliberately consider their own responsibilities, and it can be said that after doing this repeatedly we have been able to heighten the overall level of propriety in pet ownership to good effect.

The summer before last, for example, during an extended period of abnormally dry weather, it was a group of dog owners that kept the common garden areas of the housing complex watered. In order to help build a sense community, they have strictly observed the etiquette of pet ownership and trained their dogs properly while at the same time consistently communicating the message that a companion animal is a family member. "There were times when we found it difficult to agree," according to Otoshi. "But we always made sure to actively seek out ways we could compromise. Of course, this sometimes involved our sacrifices but we did it for the good of our pets. Leaving the conflict unresolved is no solution at all. So we learned that it is possible to ease strained feelings in others through actively pursuing solutions."

The management organization has placed forms at the entrance to each building in the complex, on which residents can file grievances, express opinions, and make suggestions or requests, and management can respond in any number of ways. In the case of a complaint regarding a specific resident, it may draft and deliver a grievance memo. When a complaint is not directed at any specific resident, it can post a notice on the bulletin board. In addition to this advisory role, it can also contact outside experts when the need arises.

It was the idea of the Pet Ownership Association's four joint coordinators not to select a single chairperson because, as they put it, "We didn't want to draw up a hierarchical organizational chart." Even the administrative board recognizes them as representatives. As a board member put it, "if those four aren't convinced, you know the rest of the pet owners won't be either."

"One thing we were truly thankful for was the way the board members, beginning with the chairman himself, took it upon themselves to study about pets," says Kobayashi. "The regulations of our housing complex included no stipulation on the number of pets that can be kept, or on the size of animals to be allowed. When it came time to set down the detailed bylaws, we were spinning our wheels a bit because of differences in thinking. So the chairman said, 'All right, then, let's hear what the experts have to say,' and he applied for a seminar by the Council for Animal Rearing in Collective Housing.

"Through this seminar, we were able to gain the understanding of board members that the main concern of residents who do not own pets is not simply the number and size of pets to be allowed. And then when differing opinions arose as to whether it would really be necessary to establish finely detailed bylaws that everyone could understand, he noted that according to his thinking, 'Rules are relative, not absolute. Getting tangled up in disputes is embarrassing to us as a whole community.' And I think this helped us get to where we are today by recognizing that the desire to make this housing complex a better place to live is a goal we all share."

In order to build a community that is comfortable to live in, it is essential that residents have an understanding of each other's points of view. While the efforts of the Pet Ownership Association's four coordinators have been essential to the group's success, the willingness of the administrative chairman to understand the point of view of the pet owners and help with the establishment of the association was clearly also a major factor.

Case Study: Voting Determines Different Fates for Individual Pet Owners when Decisions Are Forced by Vaguely Worded Rules

In another case, differing interpretations of vaguely worded pet ownership rules in a condominium development in Osaka prefecture's Suita city gave rise to major problems. Ultimately, it was decided at an ad hoc general assembly in October 2000 to ban pet ownership. But the problems didn't end there. Individual votes were made for each pet and was also determined that a resident we will identify only as K.S. would have to be ordered to remove the cat K.S. had been keeping in the condominium.

Constructed three years ago, the 38-unit building contained four units occupied by residents with pets. Three, including K.S., have kept cats, while one has owned a dog. The cat owners other than K.S. had told their real estate agencies that they owned pets, and specifically asked whether pets were allowed before moving in. K.S., on the other hand, interpreted the vaguely worded residency rules to indicate that pet ownership was allowed, and began keeping a cat without specific notification. Although there was no problem for a year and a half after K.S. moved in, the problem arose out of the difference in how the residents talked with the real estate before moving in with pets.

According to K.S., "The rules include the following clause: 'No resident shall keep, raise or conduct research upon plants or animals such that a risk of disturbance or hazard is posed to any other resident.' Nowhere does it mention cats or dogs. In our case, the cat is being kept inside, so I assumed that the clause didn't apply. But since there were some complaints about dogs, people became averse to pets generally.

"One or more of the residents have an intolerance for dogs, and specifically asked their real estate agencies whether pets were banned before moving in. This issue was discussed at the general assembly, and a number of ideas and opinions were proposed. These included allowing residents to keep pets for only a single generation in that variety of animal. And the merits and drawbacks of pet ownership for dogs and cats were discussed individually.

"In the end, however, at the December assembly it was decided by a majority that only those who had specifically notified their real estate agency of their pet ownership before moving in would be allowed to keep their animals on the premises. Accordingly, residents of two units were allowed to keep their pets, while it was decided that those living in two other units would have to either get rid of their pets or move out. One dog owner chose to move out, having already found another place to live.

"I was not convinced with the fact that the criterion for the decision came down to a question of what happened before the pet owner moved in — whether they happened to tell the agency conducting the sale whether they owned pets. And I don't think the way they arrived at the decision was democratic. It focused only on questions of the propriety of several specific individual pet owners."

Our knowledge of the Osaka case comes entirely from the account we heard from K.S. when he called CAIRC for advice, so other residents naturally can be expected to give varying versions of events. Still, a comparison of these two contrasting cases makes abundantly clear the differences between the community-mindedness of the two collective housing complexes under study. When a mature community has been formed, the very process of working through pet-related issues can be a means of making that community an enjoyable place to live.

Yet, harmony in a community cannot be maintained simply by eliminating problems. A good community is one that stimulates willingness among its members to trust one another and help each other out. In any community that allows conflict to go unresolved, it can be assumed that there are other latent problems that may emerge down the road.

In February, The Tokyo Metropolitan Government Bureau of Housing established a committee to examine issues related to the lifting of the ban on pet ownership in publicly-owned housing. Set to begin accepting new residents in 2002, the Urban Development Corporation's rental housing project known temporarily as the Metropolitan Tokyo Koto Ward District (also as the Shiomi Eki-mae A District), will be a pet-friendly housing project allowing ownership of cats and small dogs. And in a public condominium housing project in Yokohama, the management organization formed by residents is revising its ban on pets to allow them on condition owners pay a 6,000 yen deposit per animal, plus 1,000 yen per month in supplemental rent.

In the three and a half years since CAIRC was established, we have seen the awareness in society of companion animal issues deepen year by year. We felt it particularly disheartening to see the Osaka case played out amid this more general deepening of understanding. It has made us keenly aware of the difficulty of the task we face in helping people to live together with animals, and the insufficiency of our own efforts to spread information and understanding.

Since the majority of urban dwellers live in collective housing arrangements, barring pets from collective housing would be tantamount to banishing them from our cities altogether. The Survey on Animal Protection conducted last year by the Office of the Prime Minister indicated that most residents approve of pet ownership in collective housing. A majority of 58% of respondents said that it was "acceptable to keep pets, as long as owners follow specified rules." This represented an increase of 16 percentage points over the results of the same survey conducted 10 years before.

We at CAIRC would like to continue to monitor the situation in the Osaka case as it develops, and to make even greater efforts than ever to spread knowledge and understanding of how humans can successfully coexist with animals.

In the Next Issue: A Special Feature on Our Activities Relating to Encouraging Keeping Cats Indoors

CAIRC encourages urban cat owners to keep their cats indoors. Keeping cats indoors enables residents of collective housing to avoid all kinds of trouble. As pets, cats themselves are particularly well adapted to living indoors. More than a few unforeseen accidents and illnesses have arisen from allowing cats outside. And it seems that many owners of cats resist keeping them indoors, thinking doing so might hinder their ability to behave naturally. In our next issue we will address these and other issues by examining the ways in which the Tokyo Metropolitan Government is promoting the keeping of cats indoors, and by presenting advice from animal behaviorist Dr. Dennis Turner, as well as the stories of people who actually keep their cats indoors.