Court dismisses case against architect who built unauthorised mezzanine floor in condo , Latest Singapore News - The New Paper
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Court dismisses case against architect who built unauthorised mezzanine floor in condo

The High Court has dismissed a case brought by the management corporation strata title (MCST) of a freehold condominium against an architect who installed an unauthorised mezzanine floor in his top-floor apartment 30 years ago.

The MCST of The Summit in East Coast learnt of the unauthorised attic in 2017, when its managing agent discovered the structure while investigating Mr William Lau’s complaint about bird droppings on the wall next to his unit.

Prompted by the discovery, Mr Lau and his wife, Ms Midori Aw, belatedly obtained permission from the authorities to retain the attic with an additional gross floor area of 63.58 sq m, after paying a $2,400 penalty and a development charge of $422,807.

The MCST then filed an application to the High Court, asking that the couple be ordered to either remove the attic or pay additional contributions to the management fund and sinking fund for the unauthorised structure, backdated to 1989 when they purchased the unit.

Justice Lee Seiu Kin dismissed the MCST’s application in July 2023, ruling that it has no legal recourse against the home owners in this situation. He issued written grounds for his decision on Tuesday.

Mr Lau and Ms Aw claimed that when they visited the showflat in August 1989, the sales and marketing director of the developer verbally confirmed that they could install a mezzanine attic in the unit.

They claimed that during construction of the building, the developer raised the false ceiling in their unit to a higher level than other similar units, to allow for a mezzanine floor to be installed above the living room.

They contended that their installation of the mezzanine floor and a spiral staircase in 1993 was “public knowledge”.

The couple presented a Straits Times article published on Oct 30, 1993, which featured the interior design of their apartment, to support their case.

After the mezzanine floor was discovered in August 2017, the MCST told the couple that they would have to take it down unless they could obtain 90 per cent approval at a general meeting to ratify the unauthorised work, as well as take steps to obtain the requisite regulatory approval.

Eventually, on Oct 29, 2021, the couple applied to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for planning permission to retain the mezzanine floor.

The URA replied that they have to pay a penalty for contravening the Planning Act by installing the mezzanine floor, as well as a development charge.

The couple paid the sums, and on Sept 8, 2022, the URA granted them written permission to retain the mezzanine floor.

In his written grounds, Justice Lee said the MCST could not rely on a breach of the Planning Act to bring a civil suit against the couple. He added that as written planning permission from the URA had since been obtained, there was no continuing breach.

The MCST also argued that the couple had failed to obtain a 90 per cent resolution to authorise the mezzanine floor, as required under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management Act (BMSMA).

However, Justice Lee ruled that the BMSMA did not apply in this case because the mezzanine floor was installed in 1993, before the law came into force on April 1, 2005.

He rejected the MCST’s argument that the couple’s act of applying to the URA for permission in October 2021 meant that the law was applicable.

While he decided in favour of Mr Lau and Ms Aw, the judge ordered the MCST to pay only nominal legal costs of $1 to the couple.

Justice Lee said: “Mr Lau ought to have known, as a registered architect and, much later, as the chairman of the MCST’s management council from 2009 to 2017, that he was required to obtain planning permission from the URA. Yet the defendants knowingly stayed silent and did not seek to obtain the requisite permission.”

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