Condo owners sue for $32m; defendants try to shift blame

Mr Brian Selby (left), chairman of the condominium MC, said there are $32 million worth of defects in The Seaview. They include water seepage in the basement carpark (top) and a rotting wooden plank (above) in the pool deck area.
Mr Brian Selby (above), chairman of the condominium MC, said there are $32 million worth of defects in The Seaview. They include water seepage in the basement carpark and a rotting wooden plank in the pool deck area.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG AND ST FILE PHOTOS
Mr Brian Selby (left), chairman of the condominium MC, said there are $32 million worth of defects in The Seaview. They include water seepage in the basement carpark (top) and a rotting wooden plank (above) in the pool deck area.
Mr Brian Selby, chairman of the condominium MC, said there are $32 million worth of defects in The Seaview. They include water seepage in the basement carpark (above) and a rotting wooden plank in the pool deck area.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG AND ST FILE PHOTOS
Mr Brian Selby (left), chairman of the condominium MC, said there are $32 million worth of defects in The Seaview. They include water seepage in the basement carpark (top) and a rotting wooden plank (above) in the pool deck area.
Mr Brian Selby, chairman of the condominium MC, said there are $32 million worth of defects in The Seaview. They include water seepage in the basement carpark and a rotting wooden plank (above) in the pool deck area.ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG AND ST FILE PHOTOS

Residents of The Seaview condominium, unhappy over what they say are numerous defects in their estate, have sued four parties involved in the development for $32 million.

But three defendants are pushing the blame down the line.

Developer Mer Vue Developments, a subsidiary of Wheelock Properties; main contractor Tiong Aik Construction; and RSP Architects Planners & Engineers are arguing that they had taken care to engage competent independent contractors to carry out the works, and so are not responsible for any faults.

A four-day hearing on this preliminary issue started yesterday for the High Court to decide if the developer, main contractor and architect are entitled to rely on the so-called independent contractor defence.

The fourth defendant, mechanical and electrical engineers Squire Mech, is not relying on this defence.

The actual trial is scheduled to be heard later this year.

The management corporation (MC) of the Amber Road condo sued in 2011 over the alleged defects. In his opening statement, Mr Samuel Seow listed the complaints of the residents: foul smells, infestations of flies and leaking windows.

Blocks of concrete fell with lightning strikes; paint peeled from walls; and swimming pool tiles popped out at whim, he said.

"Wheelock appears to have made healthy profits from The Seaview by building (it) as cheap as possible," said Mr Seow. The remark brought a swift objection from Tiong Aik's lawyer, Mr Ravi Chelliah.

Mer Vue's lawyer Christopher Chuah said the issue at hand was the independent contractor defence and it was unfair to disparage the defendants.

Mr Seow argued that there was no merit in this defence. If everyone along the chain of development is allowed to push the blame down the line, eventually home owners can seek damages only from the worker who paints the walls, he said.

Mr Chuah, however, argued that the developer had delegated the design and construction work to Tiong Aik, a highly graded contractor and RSP, a reputable architectural firm.

The employer should not be vicariously liable for the negligence of an independent contractor, he noted, and cited a seminal 2005 Court of Appeal ruling that all a developer needed to prove was that it took care in hiring the contractor.

Mr Chelliah asked MC chairman Brian Selby if he was personally aware of any flouting of regulations by Tiong Aik. Mr Selby replied: "All that I have personal awareness of is that there are $32 million worth of defects in our estate, brought about by one or more defendants, together or independently."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 04, 2015, with the headline 'Condo owners sue for $32m; defendants try to shift blame'. Print Edition | Subscribe