Mahim society asked to stop charging residents for letting pets use building elevators. Consumer forum says if milkmen can use it, so can dogs.
Posted On Monday, November 29, 2010 at 02:20:58 AM
The status of dogs in housing societies have been elevated. In a judgment that will set a precedent for housing societies on how to treat pets, the Central Mumbai Consumer Redressal Forum has rapped a Mahim society for charging one of its member Rs 500 for each of his two dogs using the elevator.
The D’Souzas had been paying Rs 500 a month so their dog Barney could use the lift
Noting that pets are members of the modern, urban family, the forum ruled there is no reason why pets can't use elevators when outsiders, including service providers such as milkmen and vendors, have access to the facility without any charges.
The family in question -- the D'Souzas -- resides on the 10th floor of Our Lady Of Velankanni And Perpetual Succour society. The D'Souzas, 58-year-old Allwyn and Eleanor, 52, were shocked by the resolution passed during the society's general body on August 10, 2008, charging Rs 500 per month for each pet using the lifts. The move hit the couple hard as they would use the elevator to take their pet dogs Barney, a labrador, and Dash, a mongrel, for a daily walk.
When the family protested, the society management justified the decision by saying the pets cause "nuisance due to the stench and threat, causing inconvenience to the members" and that "extra electricity (was) consumed due to unnecessary trips by the lift because of the dogs," among other factors.
The D’Souzas were left to fend for themselves as the other family in their building that had a pet stayed on the third floor and took to stairs after the diktat. Challenging the society’s decision, Allwyn D’Souza moved the consumer forum while continuing to pay Rs 1,000 every month “under protest”, along with maintenance bills.
D’Souza’s lawyers Udav Wavikar and Rashmi Manne contended before the forum that pets are pampered and loved as much as any other family member, and hence, should be considered part of the family. Invoking religion and mythology, the lawyers said a dog is considered an incarnation of a deity in Maharashtrian culture.
The lawyers further argued that forcing dogs up and down 10 floors amounts to sheer cruelty. To bolster his case, Allwyn collected signatures of society residents to attest that they had no complaints against his dogs. The society, however, said the dogs dirtied lifts by either urinating in them or soiling them, and there was the danger of them biting other residents. The society also argued that dogs are not members of the D’Souza family, and the Maharashtra Co-operative Societies Act doesn’t include them in the bracket of family members. It claimed the forum had no jurisdiction to hear the complaint.
However, the bench of Nalin Majithia and Bhavna Pisaal observed last week, “We don’t find the society’s view correct. The D’Souzas pay all normal charges and to charge them an extra Rs 500 towards each dog is illegal, and is an instance of unfair trade practice. In Indian culture, dogs are common pets and usually treated as lovingly as other members of the family.”
The forum noted that no resident had ever taken any objection to D’Souzas’ pets. “In a populous city like Mumbai, there is always a shortage of space and multi-storeyed buildings are fast filling up the landscape. Several outsiders such as milkmen, newspaper and vegetable vendors, laundrymen, sweepers, etc, use the building lifts on a daily basis. In such a scenario, the society’s decision to levy charges on residents’ pets for lifts usage is inappropriate,” the forum held.
Ordering the society to return the entire amount it has collected from the D’Souzas along with nine per cent interest and Rs 5,500 towards mental and physical torture and legal costs, the forum held, “The society has indulged in unfair trade practices and it is incorrect on their part to charge the D’Souzas.”
From October 2008 till September 2010, D’Souza paid “dog fees” to the society. Allwyn said, “Our dogs were kept absolutely clean and healthy. We would take them out only twice a day and they never misbehaved with anybody, nor dirtied the lift or the society premises. Some members of the society passed this order only to harass us.” Happy with the order, he said, “This will come as a relief to many residents who are similarly harassed over their pets.”
Lawyer Wavikar said, “If pets dirty the premises, their owners should be made to clean up the place. However, charging residents for keeping pets is completely unjust. With the city constantly experiencing vertical growth, this landmark judgment will go a long way in settling the issue on pets and their rights to use building facilities.”
The society’s lawyer, Anand Patwardhan, termed the forum’s order as ‘perverse’ saying the case should have been decided by a co-operative court. “The society is fully justified in charging additional money as provided in the by-laws of the Co-operative Society Act. Consumer forums shouldn’t trespass the jurisdiction of other courts – in this case a co-operative court.”
While Dash died last year, Barney can now use the lift without burning a hole in his owner’s pocket.