Parking fee of $957 turns into $20,000 legal bill

A condo resident's court challenge to the management over a $957 car park bill was rebuffed and she ended up paying about $20,000 in legal costs instead.
A condo resident's court challenge to the management over a $957 car park bill was rebuffed and she ended up paying about $20,000 in legal costs instead.ST PHOTO: YEO KAI WEN

Condo resident's bid to be refunded fee for parking in unused space dismissed by court

A resident challenged the management of her condominium over a $957 parking fee - and now faces a $20,000 legal costs bill after the dispute escalated.

Ms Hazel Tan paid the sum for parking in another resident's unused space under a by-law at Casa Jervois in River Valley.

She claimed the by-law was unauthorised and wrongful and sought a court order for the money to be refunded - but this was dismissed by district judge Loo Ngan Chor.

Each of the 31 units at the condominium had been allotted a parking space under the proviso that parking fees were payable for second cars parked in other spaces. The resolution was passed at two resident meetings in 2010 and 2011.

A car belonging to Ms Tan's father counted as their unit's first vehicle. She had lived with her parents in the fourth-level unit since May 2009.

The case presented an unusual issue in that she opted to sue the condominium's management committee in the State Courts over an issue that would normally have been handled by the Strata Titles Board (STB).

The statutory body convenes three-member panels to mediate and hear applications related to the disputes and issues that arise out of strata title property and en bloc sales.

Lawyers say the court's acceptance of Ms Tan's suit suggests that disgruntled residents can take their spats to court instead of the STB - even though costs at the latter are lower.

District judge Loo found that the court had the powers to hear the case, noting that the relevant governing Act did not vest the STB with the exclusive jurisdiction to hear such cases. However, he added: "I am left to wonder why (Ms Tan) has chosen to come to a district court when the panoply of powers is there with the STB."

Ms Tan, represented by lawyer Michael Chia, argued that the resolutions which became the relevant by-laws did not apply to her as she had never applied to use council carpark spaces and had parked in one not used by its owner.

Mr Loo said this argument "was astounding because it ignored the common sense of the resolutions that, if you wish to park a second car you have to apply to use a council lot, the 31 lots being only for first cars, and pay for its use".

The judge was also unmoved by her claim that the four council spaces - designated for additional cars - were illegal as they had not been approved by the Land Transport Authority.

He found that she had marshalled no proof to support this "drastic allegation". "Even if true, this was no basis for her to refuse to pay parking charges," he said.

The management council, defended by lawyer Edmund Nathan, disputed her claims and sought payment of $752 in charges due from her, after offsetting payments she made.

The judge rejected Ms Tan's claims, pointing out the "insidious character of some of the allegations... cannot be over-emphasised".

In decision grounds released earlier this month, he dismissed her claim in view of her "total failure" to support her allegations.

Ms Tan was ordered to pay the $15,000 indemnity costs plus disbursements understood to have added about another $5,000 to the bill.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 24, 2015, with the headline 'Parking fee of $957 turns into $20,000 legal bill'. Print Edition | Subscribe