One apartment owner at Leonie Towers managed to block the estate's management corporation (MC) from removing the central cooling tower that serviced the 35-year-old air-conditioning system in the condominium.
The MC of Leonie Towers had sought to dismantle the system, which had outlived its estimated service life of 20 years. The MC was backed by 82 per cent of unit owners at an extraordinary general meeting last year.
The unit owners then enacted a by-law under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management (BMSM) Act to empower the MC to proceed. But dissenting unit owner Yap Choo Moi applied to the Strata Titles Board (STB) to invalidate the by-law last year.
Her lawyer, Ms Valerie Ang, argued that the Act only provided for the making of by-laws that performed a regulatory role but not for the making of by-laws for disposing common property.
The MC's lawyer, Ms Teh Ee-von, accepted there was no provision in the Act for the removal of common property but countered, among other things, that there was no provision that prohibited removal either.
Both parties, at a hearing last month, agreed that the air-con system was common property.
Case puts amended laws under scrutiny
The relevant section of the Land Titles (Strata) Act which provided for the disposal of common property was deleted and replaced by the Building Maintenance and Strata Management (BMSM) Act in 2004 and Statutes (Miscellaneous Amendments)(No.2) Act in 2005.
The new provisions did not provide for disposal of common property by the management corporation.
Lawyers say if there is unanimous support for the disposal of common property, such as obsolete play swings or other items in a common playground for residents, it is likely the matter will pass without further objections or notice.
But in this case, a dissenting resident filed formal objections to the Strata Titles Board for a ruling on the disposal of a condominium cooling tower and triggered a test case which brought the relevant laws under its scrutiny.
If the case is about replacement of and not disposal per se, then the case is treated as one of maintenance of common property, which is provided for under the BMSM Act.
In a novel ruling, the board, comprising deputy president Francis Remedios and its members, Professor Teo Keang Sood and Mr Chua Koon Hoe, blocked the MC's bid, saying the relevant laws do not allow the MC to dispose of such common property.
"There is currently no provision in the BMSM Act or the Land Titles (Strata) Act that allows for a management corporation to dispose of common property," said the board in judgment grounds issued on March 3. "It is noteworthy that even when this could be done, it could only be done by way of a unanimous resolution," it added.
Leonie Towers, in the River Valley Road area, comprises 92 units in two tower blocks of 25 storeys each. Among other things, consulting engineers hired to study the system reported there was corrosion in the steel piping, which required expensive replacements. The system was also operating at below-average level because 60 per cent of residents were using their own air-con units.
The general body which voted to remove the system last year were also told major repairs would cost $520,000, a replacement system would cost $750,000, while removing it would cost only $85,000.
Madam Yap argued that she relied on the cooling towers and removing them would require her to install a new system, which would lower her quality of life.
The board said Madam Yap held a share in the common property proportional to her share values in the estate.
While the BMSM Act provides that subsidiary proprietors like Madam Yap can be deprived of the use of common property, "the section does not provide for the removal or discarding of common property".
Counsel for the MC is considering various options following the board's rejection of its move.