Geylang residents lose 52-year dispute over land

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 6, 2013

FLAT owners who have used a strip of land to keep their cars and store goods for more than 50 years have been given a month to clear the area after the High Court rejected their claims that they own the space.

Fragrance Realty owns the 92 sq m strip next to Lorong 16, Geylang, which lies between a commercial-residential block it is developing and a block of flats called Amazing Inn.

It sought to recover the land which has been used as a car park by Amazing Inn residents since 1961, when the plot was owned by Shell Eastern Petroleum.

The developers of Amazing Inn built a barrier wall about 2.4m inside Shell's boundary line and the residents also used an aluminium shed there to store their belongings and small religious altars.

Shell did not object until 1996 when it applied to recover the land, but by then Amazing Inn had acquired the land through "adverse possession" - because it had used it for more than 12 years.

Shell's application to recover the land was turned down in the High Court.

In 2010, Shell sold the land to Fragrance Realty which made a fresh bid last year to recover the disputed area, leading to the current court case.

Fragrance lawyer David Ong argued that the title by adverse possession had been extinguished because the site had a new owner.

But defence lawyers Stephanie Hong and Mak Kok Weng countered that the adverse possession title is still valid, because the defendants - Rangoon Investment and 24 others - have been on the land for more than 12 years.

Justice Belinda Ang, in decision grounds released on Tuesday, found the defendants' title to the strip of land was valid when Shell was the owner but was no longer so when it was sold to Fragrance.

She noted that the property had been converted to registered land by Shell in 1994 and that the defendants did not lodge a caveat on it.

This meant the rights of the adverse possessor, in this case the defendants, had lapsed under the provisions of the Land Titles Act, said Justice Ang.

The judge declined to award damages sought by Fragrance for delays in the project, as it failed to act promptly and waited almost two years before taking this action.

It also did not explain why it made no protest when the encroached area was used by the residents for the two years. All parties were ordered to bear their own legal costs.

Justice Ang also ordered Fragrance to replace the current barrier with a new wall along the correct dividing line.

The month's notice to the flat owners to clear the area of all sheds, altars and other structures began on March 20, failing which Fragrance would be at liberty to remove the objects at the expense of the defendants.

This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 6, 2013

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