Saturday, August 22, 2009

En bloc appeal triggers legal questions

Judge wonders whether Joo Chiat property falls under Act after plea by sole objector

A JOO CHIAT resident, opposing the collective sale of his apartment, took the case to the High Court, citing procedural irregularities and claiming that the manner of distributing the sale proceeds was unfair.

But at a hearing yesterday, the judge raised questions about whether such a property could be allowed under the law to be sold en bloc.

Justice Andrew Ang was hearing an appeal by Mr Goh Teh Lee, 52, the sole objector, against the decision of the Strata Titles Boards (STB) which approved the sale of the property in Koon Seng Road.

The collective sale of the houses and apartments was mooted at a residents' meeting in November 2006.

The property consists of 24 apartments in a four-storey block - known as Koon Seng House - and nine pre-war terrace houses on the same plot of freehold land.

The terrace houses are owned by a single owner. The apartments, owned by different individuals, have a 999,999-year lease with no share in the land.

But in court yesterday, Justice Ang wondered whether such a property fell within the provisions of the Land Titles (Strata) Act, which sets out situations in which en bloc sales can be carried out.

The judge adjourned the case, telling lawyer Cheah Kok Lim, who represents the majority owners, to come back with submissions on the issue. Mr Goh is not represented by a lawyer.

Mr Goh, who co-owns an apartment with his wife, objected to the sale but his wife had given her agreement.

He argued that it was unfair for the purchase price of $21.12 million to be divided equally among the 33 units.

Mr Goh asserted that there were discrepancies in the collective sale agreement, such as dodgy signatures.

He contended that the deal was not transparent as the minutes of the first meeting were not circulated to all owners and the sale committee had acted too hastily by appointing the property agent and lawyer for the deal on the same night the committee was formed.

He also alleged that the majority owners made false declarations to STB.

STB disagreed and ordered the sale in December. Mr Goh then appealed to the High Court to reverse the decision.

Yesterday, Justice Ang asked Mr Goh point-blank if he was objecting because he did not want to sell or because he wanted more money.

Mr Goh replied that he did not want to sell.

The judge took pains to warn him that if he lost, he had to bear the legal costs; but if the majority lost, they could share these costs.

The judge also explained that if he eventually ruled that there was no law to allow the en bloc sale, all the owners may be stuck with their properties.

'Don't be the architect of your own defeat,' he said.

Source: Straits Times, 22 Aug 2009

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