Time to rethink the no-pets policy at public housing estates?

May 29, 2015 16:30
The Housing Authority is facing calls to reconsider its current "nip in the bud" no-pets policy as the rules assume that pets will misbehave no matter what. Photo: HKEJ

Following the introduction of new estate management rules in 2003, public housing tenants are not allowed to keep pets in their units.

The reality, however, is that many tenants flout that rule. Nowadays, almost every estate has a few people who keep dogs or cats in their homes. 

Recently, many public housing estate tenants have complained that the Housing Authority (HA) -- which laid down its rules under the Marking Scheme for Estate Management Enforcement -- has been resorting to controversial means to uncover tenants who break the rules.

Among the tactics the HA officials are said to have used is this: a person would stand in a corridor outside the flats and make irritating noises or play audio recordings of dog sounds, aiming to induce the pet dogs inside to bark and reveal their presence.

HA officials make regular checks for pet dogs in the estates. If they hear barking inside a flat, they will ask the tenants to open the door to let them check if pets are kept inside, a public housing tenant told a reporter.

The Marking Scheme for Estate Management Enforcement, introduced in 2003, has been aimed at ensuring a clean environment and good hygiene standards at public housing estates.

One of the rules under the scheme states that a tenant will lose 5 points by "keeping animal, bird or livestock inside leased premises without prior written consent of the landlord".

If a public housing resident loses 16 points within two years, their tenancies could be terminated.

Many pet owners are said to have fallen for HA officials’ tricks.

Last year, the HA deducted points from 570 tenants because they kept pets without permission.

The government agency says that given the crowded environment in the public housing estates, it is not suitable for residents to keep pets as it would cause hygiene problems and disturb other tenants.

In order not to get busted, some have installed acoustic panels in the house to absorb the barking noise.

Some have even had their door bells removed to prevent sudden sounds which would make the dogs bark.

Critics say the HA’s rules could result in a rise in the number of homeless dogs and cats, as some tenants might choose to abandon their pets in order to avoid the risk of their rental flats being taken away from them.

There is also the question of whether the regulation is already outdated.

It is true that residents who keep dogs in their leased units have broken their rental agreement with HA, but what if the pets are well-behaved? Should they be allowed in that case?

Some netizens have commented that HA has done the right thing as poor people (those who live in subsidized public housing) cannot afford the luxury of keeping pets.

But Mark Mak Chi-ho, chairman of the Non-Profit Making Veterinary Services Society, pointed out that the original purpose of the Marking Scheme was to restrict selfish behavior of tenants, rather than stripping them of their basic rights.

Pets can give emotional support to their owners, as they can be deemed to be just like a family member. It is cruel on the part of HA to drive the pets away, Mak says.

Pets do not harm anyone. It is only the potential misbehavior such as barking at the middle of the night, and peeing and pooping in public areas that should be a cause for concern for neighbors.

But if the pets don’t do anything to upset estate residents, why shouldn't they be allowed to stay in the units, Mak says.

"Does the HA forbid tenants from installing air-cons just because they pose a potential water-dripping problem?" 

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EJ Insight writer