Dispute With Your Condo’s Management or MCST: What to Do
What is the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST)?
The Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) refers to the managing body of a strata-titled property such as a condominium (colloquially known as a “condo”). This managing body is also known as the Management Corporation (MC), and its main role is to control and manage common property of the condo (see below).
The MC is formed automatically when the strata title application is registered, and comprises of all Subsidiary Proprietors (SPs, i.e. unit owners) of the condo.
The MC will be represented by a council (known as the Management Council), which comprises of a representative body of members elected from among the SPs or their nominees. The council is in charge of the daily management of the condo and is elected at each Annual General Meeting.
The MC is considered a corporate entity. This means it is capable of suing or being sued in relation to any:
- Contract entered into by the MC;
- Matter affecting common property (which includes parts of the land or building that can be enjoyed by more than one SP. For example, a central air conditioning system or parking area);
- Loss or damage suffered by the MC from contracts or other matters; or
- Matter relating to its land where its SPs are jointly liable.
Duties of an MC in Managing a Condominium
The following are a few important duties of an MC:
- Control, manage and administer the common property for the benefit of all SPs;
- Maintain the common property as well as insurance for the property as required by law; and
- Act on any special resolutions passed for the purpose of improving common property. For example, by installing, removing or replacing a facility on the common property.
Duties of an SP in Maintaining the Condominium
SPs must perform certain duties in respect of the condo. These include:
1. Paying maintenance contributions
First, SPs have a duty to pay contributions that would help maintain the common property of the development. These contributions may go to the:
- Management fund, for the day-to-day expenses of the condo; and
- Sinking fund, a fund to account for future capital needs and expenses, including where repair or renewal of common property is required.
The sum of these contributions is decided by the MC, and when the SP has unpaid contributions for more than 30 days, the MC can serve a written demand on the SP to recover any unpaid contribution as debt with interest.
If the SP still does not pay up after 14 days from the date the written demand was served, the SP would be liable for an offence amounting to a fine up to S$10,000. The MC may recover the unpaid contribution through the Small Claims Tribunals or the courts.
Alternatively, the MC may register the unpaid contribution as a charge against the SP’s property. This means that the MC may have the power to sell the unit after:
- A special resolution is passed by the MC;
- A notice of intended sale is published once in approved newspapers;
- There is still no payment for the unpaid contribution and interest for 6 weeks after the date of the publication; and
- There is no legal action pending in court to restrain the MC from selling the unit.
2. Maintaining their units’ external features
Second, SPs have a duty to maintain exterior features of their units by ensuring that the features are securely fixed to the building and do not collapse. Exterior features include:
- Air-conditioning units;
- Grilles or shutters;
- Tiles, claddings, curtain walls, sidings, plasters, brackets, cornices;
- Gutters, rainwater down-pipes,
- Sun-shading devices, and
- Other permanent features installed on the roof of the exterior of the building.
Where SPs have no proper justification for not maintaining such exterior features, they may be fined up to $10,000 and/or imprisoned up to 12 months.
3. Complying with the authorities’ maintenance notices
Third, SPs must comply with notices served by public authorities which require SPs to carry out maintenance of their unit.
If an SP does not comply with such notices, the MC may carry out that work and recover the costs incurred as a debt from the SP.
4. Other duties
Other duties of SPs include:
- Not to do anything with their unit that interferes with the support, shelter, water, sewage or utilities supply for other units in the development;
- Not to cause a nuisance or hazard to other unit occupiers;
- Not to unreasonably interfere with other unit owners or occupiers from enjoying their own unit or common property; and
- Where there are inter-floor leaks, it would be presumed that the leak originated from the upper floor unit unless proven otherwise. The upper floor unit owner would then have the duty to fix the leak.
What are the Laws Governing Condominium Management?
SPs have to abide by the compulsory by-laws that are part of the regulations prescribed by the Minister for National Development. Such by-laws fall under the following categories:
- Parking of vehicles
- Obstruction of common property
- Damage to lawn, trees, shrubs and other plants
- Alteration or damage to common property
- Behaviour of owners and residents
- Children playing on common property
- Behaviour of visitors
- Depositing rubbish and unwanted items on the common property
- Drying of laundry
- Cleaning windows
- Storage of flammable liquids
- Garbage disposal
- Keeping of animals
- Proper maintenance of lot
- Proper use of lot
- Change of use of lot
- Prevention of fire and other hazards
- Control of use of facilities
- Provision of amenities and services
All these prescribed by-laws serve to regulate the behaviour of SPs, occupiers and their guests. This way, other SPs may enjoy the common facilities as well as the safety, peace and quietness of their own home.
MCs are also empowered to make additional by-laws which fall under the following categories:
- Safety and security measures
- Details of any common property of which use is restricted
- Keeping of pets
- Floor coverings
- Garbage disposal
- Architectural and landscaping guidelines to be observed by all SPs
- Such other matters as are appropriate to the type of strata scheme concerned
The compulsory by-laws take precedence over the additional by-laws. This means that additional by-laws are not allowed to contradict the compulsory by-laws and may be repealed if such contradiction occurs.
The powers of the MC in making additional by-laws tend to be wide in scope. Notably, the MC may make additional by-laws that are stricter than the compulsory by-laws as long as they do not contradict them.
All additional by-laws have to be passed via a special resolution by the MC. A special resolution requires, at minimum, 21 days’ notice of the motion to be passed and support from SPs representing 75% of the share value of the condo.
The additional by-law(s) that are passed by the MC will only take effect after a copy of them has been certified as a true copy under the MC’s seal, and lodged with the Commissioner of Buildings within 45 days of the passing of the resolution.
Breach of By-Laws
When a by-law is breached, the MC or an SP of a unit may apply to court for an order of relief against the unit owner who caused the breach.
The court may grant:
- An order to the unit owner to remedy the breach;
- An order to stop the unit owner from continuing his breach; or
- The recovery of damages for any loss or injury to a person or property arising out of the breach.
Powers of an MC with respect to breaches of by-laws
Generally MCs cannot impose fines or forfeit deposits paid for booking facilities. For example, if a resident pays a deposit for booking a function room and breaches a by-law by making too much noise, the MC would not be able to forfeit the resident’s deposit.
However, MCs may recover administrative fees if it incurs any costs as a result of the breach in by-laws. In the context of the earlier example, if the resident booking the function room damages the common furniture, the MC may recover the costs of repairs from him.
Similarly, MCs are also permitted to demand for wheel clamp release fees to recover the cost arising from the need for these wheel clamps. For example, if the MC had applied a wheel clamp to an incorrectly-parked vehicle.
Nonetheless, MCs do not have the power to ban unit owners from using the condo facilities even if the person has made repeated breaches in by-laws. This is unless the MC applies for and obtains a court order to do so (as mentioned above).
MCs must be impartial when enforcing their by-laws. For example, should an MC judge wish to enforce a by-law saying that SPs are not to place personal items in common corridors, the MC cannot ask only one SP to remove their items from their common corridor. The MC has to enforce the by-law across the entire condominium by asking all SPs to remove all their items from all common corridors.
Disputes Between MCs and SPs
Given the numerous duties that MCs and SPs have and owe to each other, disputes may arise between both parties. Common disputes between MCs and SPs include disputes over:
- Inter-floor water leakages;
- Failure in performing duties under the by-laws;
- Car parking issues;
- Validity of resolutions passed by the MCs;
- Validity of certain by-laws;
- Unit owners being unhappy with alterations to the common property; and
- Requests from MCs for unit owners to carry out particular renovation works.
How Can SPs Resolve Disputes with the MC?
1. Negotiate with the MC
First, SPs should negotiate with the MC to work out a solution together. This is the most cost-effective solution given that no third-parties or professionals are required to be involved and such process is relatively informal.
2. Attend mediation
If parties still cannot find an acceptable solution, mediation may be sought. Mediation would involve independent and neutral third-parties as the mediators.
Typically, mediators would not decide on the outcome of the dispute. Instead, the role of the mediator is to facilitate discussion between the parties for them to achieve their own resolution.
Mediators can be appointed through mediation bodies such as:
- Singapore Mediation Centre (SMC); and
- Community Mediation Centre (CMC).
Parties would need to bring along all relevant documents relating to the dispute which they will refer to and rely on during the mediation session.
3. Initiate proceedings with the Strata Titles Board (STB)
An application to the STB should be considered as a last resort, once the above-mentioned options have been exhausted. However, not all disputes can be referred to the STB. Some of the main disputes the STB has the power to decide on include:
- Dispute on costs or repairs, or rectifying a complaint in respect of a defect in a lot, a subdivided building and the common property.
- Convening a general meeting where the MC has defaulted.
- Invalidating a purported by-law that the MC has no power to make.
- Varying the rate of interest fixed by the MC for late payment of contribution.
- Varying the contributions levied or the manner of payment.
- Giving consent to owners to alter the common property.
- Appointing a managing agent.
You may wish to seek a lawyer’s advice on whether you have a case against the MC of your condo before you file an application with STB.
To initiate proceedings with the STB, an application has to be filed for a fee of $500, along with any supporting documentary evidence.
Once the STB has returned to you a letter of acceptance case, you will be required to serve your application and all supporting documents on the MC. Upon which, a mediation date will be set and both parties must attend the mediation session(s).
Unlike mediation at the SMC and CMC, parties may request for the Board (convened by the STB) to make a decision on the outcome of the dispute on their behalf.
If mediation is successful, both parties will be required to sign and acknowledge the terms of the settlement agreement. These terms are final, binding and enforceable on the parties.
If mediation fails, the Board may fix a date for arbitration of the matter. Arbitration is a process where the STB would appoint a panel which has the power to decide on the matter. It is slightly less formalistic than the usual court procedure.
The STB’s decision is final, and an appeal may be made to the General Division of the Singapore High Court only on arguments over legal issues.
If the STB rules in your favour but the MC fails to rectify the situation as required, you may engage a lawyer to apply to the District Court for enforcement of the STB’s orders. It is an offence not to comply with STB’s orders and the guilty party can be subject to a fine up to $10,000 and/or to imprisonment for a term up to 5 years.
More information on the application process can be found on the STB website.
4. Commence a civil action
Alternatively, for matters that are outside the decision-making powers of the STB, parties can consider litigation. Litigation is the process of suing another party under the Singapore court system.
Do take note that if you are an MC who wants to take legal action against an SP, the court order that you seek cannot be disproportionate to any damage done. In an Oct 2019 case, an MC sought a court order to get an SP to remove a shoe cabinet that had been placed along a common corridor, in breach of a by-law. Although the court acknowledged that the by-law had been breached, it denied the MC’s application for the court order.
One of the reasons the court gave for rejecting the application was because granting the desired court order would be too drastic a response to the by-law breach. This was especially since the cabinet did not pose any inconvenience to anyone’s movements in the corridor.
For litigation proceedings, it would be advisable for parties to engage a lawyer as it is a formalistic process with many requirements. Having a lawyer to advise on the various stages would be helpful.
If you require legal advice on the validity of your condo’s by-laws, or require legal representation for a dispute with your condo’s MC, please contact our landlord-tenant dispute lawyers.
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