Strata Titles Board acts to clarify law in two condo spats

Board will intervene only if management corp decision is 'improper', 'unreasonable'

The Strata Titles Board has moved to further clarify the law in disputes involving unit owners and condo management in two recent test cases.

Earlier this month, the board overruled a move by the management of Watermark Robertson Quay, which had refused to allow a unit owner to upgrade the electrical supply to her two shop units.

Ms Lee Lay Ting said she had struggled to find quality tenants because her electrical supply was 63 amps, one phase. She sought management corporation (MC) approval to upgrade the supply to 100 amps, three phase.

However, the MC of the development - which comprises 206 residential units and eight shop units - refused, saying "it had to reserve the spare power supply for future common areas' upgrading and improvement works".

Its lawyer, Mr Justin Chia, argued that electricity supply was part of common property and giving in to the request grants exclusive use of common property to Ms Lee, which would require approval of a resolution at a general meeting.

The board - consisting of Mr Alfonso Ang, Dr Tang Hang Wu and Mr Lee Coo - held that although unused electrical supply is not common property, the electrical switchboards and cables through which electricity is fed is common property. This meant that the board had powers under the Act to intervene to settle the spat if the MC was unreasonable.

Professional electrical engineers had testified there was sufficient spare capacity for Ms Lee's request to be allowed.

The board also heard that the management council was concerned that if the request was allowed, the shop units would operate 24-hour businesses, such as pizza delivery, which would affect residential units directly above the shops and also raise security issues with people loitering around.

The board found this concern "irrelevant" and suggested the MC could pass appropriate by-laws to address the 24-hour issue.

In judgment grounds released this month, it said the MC's refusal of Ms Lee' s request was improper as it had failed to take into account a relevant consideration - that there was spare capacity in the engineers' opinion. The MC was ordered to pay $18,000 in costs to Ms Lee and allow her to upgrade her electrical supply

The board made clear that it will intervene under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act (BMSMA) only in cases where an MC's decision is "clearly improper and /or unreasonable".

Ms Lee's lawyers, Mr Toh Kok Seng and Mr Daniel Chen, in a

case update on law firm Lee & Lee's website, said: "This is the first case in which management corporation's duties have been considered in depth in relation to a request for electrical upgrading."

Meanwhile, in the second test case involving the Pandan Valley condo in Holland Village, the board ruled that a defective drainage pipe serving an upper-floor unit but which protruded through the ceiling to a lower-floor unit would have to be fixed by the upper unit's owner.

It overruled the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) advice that the lower-unit owner should pay the bill.

Ms Ong Siew Seo had sought to be reimbursed by lower-floor unit owner Sebastian Ong for the $1,500 she paid in repair and painting and repair works.

She argued that although the leaking pipe served her unit exclusively, the affected section was the responsibility of Mr Ong.

Ms Ong took her case to her Member of Parliament and produced a letter from the BCA supporting her view.

But the board, comprising Messrs Seng Kwang Boon, Lai Huen Poh and Tan Kian Hoon, disagreed, pointing out that there is nothing in the BMSMA to "imply the change of responsibility for the owners of the defective pipes to another person".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'Strata Titles Board acts to clarify law in two condo spats'. Print Edition | Subscribe