Condo owner lost $60k when rainwater leaked into his unit
On appeal, the court ruled that the management did not have to pay the compensation because it was not negligent in identifying and fixing the problem.
“Raindrops Keep Falling On My Head” is a classic pop song, but you certainly won’t be humming that tune when water starts appearing in your home every time it rains.
The owner of a luxurious four-bedroom freehold apartment in Farrer Road faced a nightmare of rainwater leaks that extensively damaged the wooden floor of two bedrooms and passageways, as well as wardrobes and door frames.
To make matters worse, the problem occurred right smack in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown in 2020, which delayed and complicated repair works.
The leak was so bad that the owner and his family spent about $30,000 to rectify the damage and a further $30,000 to rent another home for seven months while the work was carried out.
The source of the leak was later found to be a concealed rainwater downpipe in the condominium building that was not visible to anyone on the ground. The common pipe was also not shown in the construction drawings.
The owner sued the condominium’s management, and the Strata Titles Board found that there was no inordinate delay in establishing the cause of the leak and in repairing the pipe.
Despite this, the board ordered the management to pay about $50,000 to the owner on the basis that it had a strict duty to maintain common property and that it did not matter that no one knew previously that the pipe existed.
When the case went to appeal, High Court Judge Andre Maniam ruled that the management did not have to pay the compensation because it was not negligent in identifying and fixing the problem.
He clarified that the law does not make it mandatory for condominium management bodies to pay for all damage caused by common property such as pipes. In such cases, a building’s management would be liable for the loss only if it had failed in its basic duty to maintain such assets or was negligent in its work.
Duty to maintain common property
In a case in Australia, a man was hurt when a glass pane in the front door of a building shattered. He later claimed that the building management had breached its duty of care in maintaining the common property.
But his case was dismissed as the management had acted reasonably in maintaining common property. Sometimes, even inspections would not have highlighted the risk of glass suddenly breaking.
More importantly, a building’s management merely assists owners in maintaining and repairing common facilities, so it makes no sense to make it liable for all problems.
Justice Maniam noted that the law here allows condo unit owners to claim damages for breach of the building management’s duty to maintain common property. But allowing such claims to proceed does not mean that the management would be strictly liable for any loss caused by the condition of common property.
“The duty to maintain common property does not create strict liability; it does matter whether the (management) acted reasonably or not,” he said.
In another case, a group of owners at a Holland Road condominium sued the management after a tree fell and damaged their parked cars on a rainy night. They claimed that the management had been negligent in not maintaining the condition of the tree and had breached its duty under the law.
But their lawsuit was dismissed because the allegation of negligence was not proven and the management did not have to pay for the damaged cars.
Similarly, in the case first mentioned, while the owner suffered losses when the rainwater pipe leaked, the management did not know, and could not have reasonably known, that the problem was due to the concealed pipe. When the leak occurred, the management detected the source and repaired the pipe.
The mere fact that the leaking pipe is common property does not make a building’s management liable if it has not been negligent in its duties. “If (it) has acted reasonably in the discharge of its duty to maintain common property, it has not breached its statutory duty,” Justice Maniam said.
Source: Straits Times © SPH Media Limited. Permission required for reproduction.