The ban on keeping dogs in Home Ownership Scheme (HOS) flats is being challenged in court after a private housing owner fought off efforts by his building management to remove his golden retriever.
Two dog owners in public housing flats have filed court actions this year on the grounds that the ban violated their right to the exclusive use and enjoyment of their flat, as guaranteed by the deed of mutual covenant.
In 2008, Peter Tsang Chi-ming, a dog owner in Mei Foo Sun Chuen, won a suit against the estate's owners and management with the same reasoning. The judge ruled that keeping a pet in one's flat was within the rights of the owner to enjoy his premises. Therefore, a subsidiary house rule that prohibited the practice contradicted the deed of mutual covenant and was invalid.
Following the case, a resident in Lok Nga Court in Ngau Tau Kok filed a case with the District Court in January, after he and about 10 other residents were told to remove their dogs.
He said the owners' corporation had no right to enforce a clause in an appendix of the deed of mutual covenant that forbade dogs, given that it contradicted the right to enjoy one's flat. However, the case was dismissed because the plaintiff was the owner's son and not the owner.
A similar suit filed by another HOS flat owner was still going through the court process, and the owner declined to speak about her case.
Tsang, the Mei Foo Sun Chuen resident, said he believed the principle that helped him win his case should apply to HOS housing.
A dog owner said the problem was unclear rules. Bertha Lau, one of the Lok Nga Court residents who were told to remove their dogs, said: 'The government did not say clearly whether dogs are forbidden in all HOS housing.'
She had not received any complaints about her poodle, and was astounded when the property management demanded she remove it.
It was common for Hongkongers to keep pets, and she believed rules should be amended to allow the practice as long as the dogs did not cause a disturbance.
The animal group Stop - Save HK's Cats and Dogs said it had received an increasing number of inquiries from HOS residents regarding their rights to keep pets in the past year.
At a group forum this month, a dog owner living in a Ma On Shan estate said she was worried after seeing a new notice issued this month reminding residents that no dogs were allowed. 'The rules in my estate are so strict. In other estates within the same district, owners are walking their dogs inside the estate,' she said, adding that she was confused about the different standards.
Others believed residents of the 226 HOS estates in the city should be entitled to the same rights as those in private housing.
The latest census figures show there were about 286,000 households in Hong Kong keeping a total of 524,900 pets in 2005, including about 200,000 dogs and 100,000 cats.
The South China Morning Post examined different sets of HOS deeds of mutual covenant. In some there was a clause in the main text stating clearly that dogs were not allowed. In others the ban is listed within a schedule of house rules embedded in the deed.
If house rules were incorporated into the deed as a schedule, they should have the same force as the deed unless they were inconsistent with the terms in the main body of the deed, solicitor Kevin Bowers said. If they were inconsistent, the terms in the main body could prevail.
A Housing Authority spokeswoman said how the different deeds were implemented depended on the owners' corporations or deed committees.