Condo residents fume over 'ban' on smoking on their balconies

Some residents at the Meadows@Peirce condominium in Upper Thomson Road said they agree with the idea of encouraging residents to refrain from smoking in open-air areas, but said homes were a different matter.
Some residents at the Meadows@Peirce condominium in Upper Thomson Road said they agree with the idea of encouraging residents to refrain from smoking in open-air areas, but said homes were a different matter.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Meadows@Peirce cites rule against nuisance acts, but some say move affects private property

A dispute is brewing at a condominium in Upper Thomson Road over whether or not residents can smoke on their own balconies.

The management agent of Meadows  @   Peirce recently sent out a circular telling residents they should not smoke on their balconies and in window areas, in addition to common areas where smoking is already prohibited by the National Environment Agency (NEA).

The advisory cited a clause from the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act (BMSMA) that prohibits owners from doing anything that can be a nuisance to others.

The move has triggered arguments on the residents' Facebook group over whether or not the condominium management has a say in activities on private property.

Mr Ivan Wang is one resident who believes the notice had gone too far.

He said he is not alone in believing that the management has overstepped its boundaries and the definition of what can be considered a serious nuisance.

"But as usual, there are people who just feel like controlling what other people want to do," said Mr Wang, who is in his 30s and works in export sales.

The episode at Meadows  @  Peirce has touched on an issue that is increasingly heated as Singapore continues its move towards being a smoke-free nation. Earlier this year, dozens wrote to The Straits Times on the issue of neighbours smoking in surrounding Housing Board flats.

"Unfortunately, the definition of what is considered a nuisance is not clearly stated."

Ms Karen Law Krygsman, 46, a credit manager, said: "Residents are blindsided as they have no idea of the context of the advisory.

"The management should send a friendly reminder to all residents first. Only when repeated reminders fail, then more hardball tactics can be employed. They should also try to mediate between opposing parties, like HDB does.

"Using the clause was heavy- handed - it should not have been invoked so soon."

Some residents agree with the idea of encouraging residents to refrain from smoking in open-air areas, but said homes were a different matter.

Ms Karen Chan, 45, who works in IT, said: "It is a good thing to have such a notice, but at the end of the day, the balcony is still someone's private property."

When The Straits Times called the management committee at Meadows  @  Peirce, a representative said the circular was just meant to urge residents to be considerate towards one another, and a reminder of NEA guidelines on areas where smoking is forbidden.

Still, the episode has touched on an issue that is increasingly heated as Singapore continues its move towards being a smoke-free nation.

Earlier this year, dozens wrote to ST on the issue of neighbours smoking in surrounding Housing Board flats.

NEA guidelines do not prohibit smoking in private residences.

Lawyers said condominium management committees may not be able to enforce rules that are based on the clause cited by the management of Meadows @ Peirce.

Mr Francis Goh, partner of law firm Eversheds Harry Elias, said there are no criminal penalties for breaches of the particular clause under the BMSMA, but the management of a condominium has the option of creating a by-law.

The management can then apply to court for an order to restrain the breach of the by-law and seek appropriate penalties for those who do so.

When asked, BCA said the management of a condominium may make by-laws. This can be done through a vote at a general meeting.

Every by-law made by the management is binding on its subsidiary proprietors, lessees and occupiers, said BCA.

However, BCA said the management should seek legal advice on any by-law to ensure it is keeping with the provisions of the BMSMA.

On the other hand, residents of HDB flats are free to smoke on their balconies.

Under HDB's ruling, balconies come under private property and are therefore not included in the NEA's list of non-smoking areas.

Correction note: In our earlier story, we said HDB and the Building and Construction Authority (BCA) told ST that smoking in private residences is legal. This is incorrect. It was NEA guidelines which do not prohibit smoking in private residences. We are sorry for the error. 

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 17, 2017, with the headline 'Condo residents fume over 'ban' on smoking on their balconies'. Print Edition | Subscribe