Owner of $14m defect-ridden Sentosa Cove villa can claim damages: Court

The $14 million Sentosa Cove waterfront villa from developer Sandy Island, which admitted to more than 200 of the defects. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN
The $14 million Sentosa Cove waterfront villa from developer Sandy Island, which admitted to more than 200 of the defects. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

But unreasonably denying developer access to Sentosa Cove home reduces the quantum

The owner of a $14 million Sentosa Cove waterfront villa that had numerous defects, including water seepage and two lifts that did not comply with safety regulations, is entitled to claim damages from the developer, the High Court has ruled.

However, the court said the home owner's "unreasonable" actions, in denying access to the developer to fix the defects, reduce the quantum of damages that he can recover.

Mr Thio Keng Thay, the former deputy managing director of Malaysia Dairy Industries, is seeking about $2 million from developer Sandy Island, which is part of the YTL Group.

This includes costs he incurred in engaging third parties to investigate and rectify the defects, as well as damages for loss of use of the property between March 2012 and May 2015.

The precise quantum of damages will be determined at a later hearing.

In his lawsuit, Mr Thio, who is in his 70s, alleged that the house - which comprises three floors and a basement and has a private swimming pool - contained 492 defects.

This, he said, constituted a breach of the developer's contractual obligation to build the property in a good and workmanlike manner.

Mr Thio, who is represented by Senior Counsel Cavinder Bull and Mr Daniel Cai, alleged that the defects made it "uninhabitable".

These include water seepage in a number of rooms and rain ingress on the first floor. He also alleged that the passenger lift and car lift on the property were unsafe.

Sandy Island, represented by Senior Counsel Lok Vi Ming, admitted to more than 200 of the defects.

But it contended that it was not liable to pay damages because Mr Thio had breached his contractual obligation to allow the developer to rectify the faults.

 
 

The developer said it had been willing to rectify genuine defects, but was prevented from doing so by Mr Thio, who imposed "unreasonable" demands and refused to grant access to the property.

Sandy Island countersued Mr Thio for defamation over his statements in an article published in The Straits Times in 2013, featuring his claims of defects.

In a written judgment last month, Justice Lee Seiu Kin found that the defects and non-compliant lifts amounted to breaches of contract by Sandy Island.

The judge also found that Mr Thio had breached his obligation to give the developer an opportunity to rectify the defects.

"From an early stage, the plaintiff did not act in a constructive manner in his dealings with the defendant," said the judge.

Mr Thio initially told the developer that he would be sending over photos of the defects, but changed his mind.

He then asked for a methodology for rectification works, before the developer had the chance to inspect the property.

When the developer provided method statements, Mr Thio rejected them without explanation.

However, the judge said Mr Thio still had the right to recover damages; his breach of contract affected only the quantum.

As for the counterclaim, the judge found that Mr Thio, motivated by malice, had defamed the developer by suggesting that it was incapable of rectifying the defects.

He awarded nominal damages of $1,000 as the developer has not suffered substantive damage to its reputation.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2019, with the headline 'Defect-ridden villa's owner can claim damages: Court'. Print Edition | Subscribe