Calls for condos to lift ban on safety grilles

Lawyers, experts, MP say safety should come before aesthetics of buildings' facades

Condominium management bodies need to stop banning residents from installing safety grilles on balconies and windows just because it may spoil the look of the building, said lawyers and real estate experts.

If they insist on a uniform look for the estate, then they should come up with a set of approved grille designs instead.

This was the reaction to a ruling last week by the Strata Titles Board, which let a family with two young children install grilles in the balcony of their Buona Vista condo unit after their estate's management corporation (MC) twice refused to let them do so.

Members of the board ruled that "children's safety must be paramount, even if the grilles may affect the appearance of the building". This, they said, has been part of the Building and Construction Authority's (BCA) rules since 2005.

Ms Lee Bee Wah, who heads the Government Parliamentary Committee on National Development and Environment, hopes the latest case will serve as a precedent for management committees, that "if they were to insist and go to court, they would still lose".

"All condos should put safety before aesthetics," she said. "They should stop banning grilles based on appearance - we don't want to wait till somebody falls down, because then it would be too late."

Mr Toh Kok Seng, a strata dispute specialist who represented Dr Sujit Singh Gill in last week's case, also hopes other MCs which have said "no" to grilles in the past will "change their policies". MCs are made up of residents elected by their neighbours.

Mr Tang Chee Charn, executive director of real estate management services at Colliers International, said the condos his firm deals with typically agree on a standard grille for their residents.

"But I do know that some are very strict about maintaining the facade. I suppose they think that an ugly facade will result in a devaluation," he said, urging both residents and management committees to be more aware of the rules.

Ms Lee, an MP for Nee Soon GRC, believes there should be more dialogue between those running condos and the relevant authorities, such as the BCA. She said: "Some management committee members are not sure what they can and cannot do."

Disputes over grilles have been a longstanding issue. In 2012, the Urban Redevelopment Authority and the BCA wrote to The Straits Times to clarify that a unit owner shall not be prevented from installing safety devices to prevent harm to children.

Firms which install "invisible" grilles - typically made up of thin wires that do not obstruct views and are hard to detect from afar - said more condominiums have been approaching them for their services.

But the general manager of grille company Legate, Ms Jenny Goh, said some older condominiums typically are more restrictive. "Certain MCs can be very stubborn."

Just last month, a two-year-old boy fell to his death from an eighth-storey bedroom window in Kovan Melody condo.

For Dr Singh, a vascular surgeon, the waist-high glass wall at the balcony of his 13th-floor unit was not enough to prevent his four-year-old daughter from trying to climb it. "As parents, the safety of our children is extremely important," he told The Sunday Times yesterday. "I hope other MCs will follow this ruling and allow their residents with small children to protect them."

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