Monday 26 January 2015

Calls for condos to lift ban on safety grilles

Lawyers, experts, MP say safety should come before aesthetics of buildings' facades
By Hoe Pei Shan And Linette Lai, The Sunday Times, 25 Jan 2015

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."

Family wins case to install grille in condo balcony for child's safety
By K.C. Vijayan, Senior Law Correspondent, the Straits Times, 24 Jan 2015

THE Strata Titles Board has ruled in favour of a family who were twice refused permission to install a grille in the balcony of their 13th-level condominium unit after seeing their four-year-old daughter try to climb over it.

It held that the management corporation of 7 One North Residences (ONR) in Buona Vista was wrong in refusing permission to a family to install grilles above the glass wall of their 13th-level balcony.

In judgment grounds of the test case, released this week, it said: "The children's safety must be paramount, even if the grilles may affect the appearance of the building or if they constitute an alteration on common property and therefore are prohibited under ONR's by-laws."

Dr Sujit Singh Gill's application was turned down twice by the ONR's management corporation (MC), which claimed it would affect the building's unique and uniform appearance.

The MC suggested instead that grilles be placed at the edge of the living room to prevent child access to the balcony.

Dr Singh applied to the board last July to overrule the MC.

At issue was the rationality of the MC's decision and whether it could bar the installation based on the relevant building regulations.

The MC's lawyers, Mr Subramaniam Pillai and Ms Venetia Tan, argued that the grilles did not keep up the building's appearance as provided under ONR's by-laws and would obstruct maintenance of the glass wall, among other things.

Lawyers Toh Kok Seng and Daniel Chen for Dr Singh countered that the relevant ONR by-laws took effect only last July and Dr Singh could not have been aware of them as he had bought the unit in 2010. They argued that the ONR by-laws had to be consistent with the prescribed 2005 Building Maintenance (Strata Management) Regulations, which allow owners to install safety structures or devices to prevent harm to children - even if they affect the building's appearance under certain circumstances.

The board comprising Mr Alfonso Ang, Mr Chua Koon Hoe and Mr Lim Gnee Kiang found that the MC had been "unreasonably difficult" with Dr Singh's request and had ignored the concerns for children's safety, as provided for under the 2005 regulations. It added that the grilles would have minimal impact on the building's appearance.

The board made clear that children's safety must be the overriding concern and the MC should support other such applications.

It called for the MC to provide guidelines for the installation of such safety devices to ensure they keep to the rest of the appearances of the building.

"Having grilles is not an attempt to abdicate parental responsibility. Instead, it serves as a safety precaution from leaning or climbing over the balcony glass wall. After all, it only takes a split second for the child to climb and fall over the glass, especially since it is only waist-high and easy to climb over," said the board.

Law firm Lee & Lee said on its case update website that "this is the first case in which the prescribed by-law of the Building Maintenance (Strata Management) Regulations 2005 has been considered in depth and will undoubtedly be of consequence to most, if not all, management corporations in Singapore".

Safety features in place at condo

OFTEN, on a controversial issue, there is more to it than meets the eye. Unfortunately, when emotions get in the way of facts, opinions tend to take on an uncalled-for character, such as when Mr Rajasegaran Ramasamy deemed the attitude of the management corporation of One North Residences "callous" ("Board's ruling on safety grille in condo laudable"; Monday).

Children's safety has been one of the developer's and management's top priorities ever since the project obtained its temporary occupation permit.

From the onset, the developer provided for the following (endorsed by the management corporation and the annual general meeting as the norm for One North):

A lockable grille design inside the sliding balcony doors, should the subsidiary proprietor wish to install one for increased safety of children.

In the case reported in the article ("Family wins case to install grille in condo balcony for child's safety"; last Saturday), the subsidiary proprietor insisted on his own grille design to effectively enclose the entire balcony.

A 35cm-deep, 52cm-wide sunken concrete box area around the entire balcony adjacent to the glass balustrade, intended for plants to block anyone from getting close to the balustrade and also to enhance the aesthetics for every balcony.

Some owners, including the subsidiary proprietor mentioned above, chose to cover the sunken planter box with wooden planks, to have a larger balcony.

Of course, this considerably compromised the intended safety feature as it would be easier to climb over the balustrade.

Yet, the subsidiary proprietor refused to consider the simple safety option of merely removing the portion of the planks abutting the edge of the balcony.

Loh Kim Fong (Ms)
Management Corporation of
One North Residences
ST Forum, 30 Jan 2015

Grille expectations at condos
BCA to remind condo managements to allow grilles for safety, but designs need approval
By Yeo Sam Jo, The Sunday Times, 1 Feb 2015

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) will send a notice to management corporations (MCs) reminding them that home owners should not be stopped from installing grilles to prevent harm to children.

This was revealed in a letter sent to The Sunday Times, in response to several readers writing in to complain about their grille woes.

But residents still have to first get approval from their MCs on the design of the grille.

And this could lead to rejections, hassle and unwanted delays, several condo owners said, calling for a faster and easier process.

One solution, said Mr Chan Kok Hong, president of the Association of Strata Managers, could be to make all developers and architects come up with grille designs from the get-go.

"Once imposed by them, there won't be issues with how the grilles affect the look of the building."

The problem that some residents face was highlighted when Dr Sujit Singh Gill was forced to turn to the Strata Titles Boards (STB) after the MC of One North Residences (ONR) twice rejected his grille plans.

Last month, the STB ruled he had every right to install the grilles at his 13th-floor unit to protect his two young children if they climb the waist-high balcony glass wall.

In the wake of the ruling, the condo's MC wrote to The Straits Times Forum Page to say it had already suggested other safety measures, like installing grilles inside the sliding balcony doors. There was also a "sunken concrete box area" in front of the balcony wall which cannot be easily crossed.

When asked if these were enough to guarantee a child's safety, a spokesman for the MC told The Sunday Times: "Parental supervision is important as well."

She added that the MC did not consider external balcony grille designs because they would mar the facade's look and obstruct maintenance.

"The entire design, facade and structure of ONR is intended to project an open and fenceless ambience... Many owners view ONR as a unique development."

Dr Singh told The Sunday Times that installing the grilles inside was a "completely unsatisfactory" solution, as his family would not be able to use the balcony.

He added that the planter box ran along only one side of his balcony, and that the balcony's glass barriers rest on a ledge which a child can still stand on.

In the past two years, the BCA received feedback on nine cases in which developers or MCs rejected requests by unit owners to install grilles for their windows or balconies. In that time, the STB heard one case - Dr Singh's.

Some residents do not want to take the risk of waiting.

Housewife Estella Young, 36, was told by Park East Condominium's management two years ago that she could not install external balcony grilles.

"It's quite nerve-racking for parents," said Ms Young, whose son, now three, had just started to walk then.

She settled for grilles on the inside of her balcony doors instead.

Sales automation director Christina Teng, 45, also ran into obstacles at The Esta at Amber Gardens, where she lives.

She installed invisible grilles at her 19th-floor balcony last September after receiving approval from the condo's managing agent.

But after another agent took over in November, she was told that her grilles were not sanctioned.

It was finally decided at the condo's annual general meeting yesterday that Ms Teng could keep her grilles, and other residents now have to follow a similar design.

But the mother of a 16-month-old son said: "I invested a lot of my time, effort and money into this. It's frustrating.

"I only have a simple request - to make my living space safer."


We refer to the articles and letters on the installation of safety grilles for condominium windows and balconies that were published in The Straits Times.

Under the prescribed by-law of the Building Maintenance (Strata Management) Regulations 2005, a Subsidiary Proprietor (SP) or owner of an individual unit shall not be prevented from installing any locking or other safety device/structure to improve safety within that unit, or any safety features to prevent harm to children. This includes the installation of safety grilles at the balcony.

To address residents' safety concerns and ensure uniformity in the appearance of safety devices or structures with the rest of the building, the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST) should set design guidelines for the installation of such features. These design guidelines should then be passed as a by-law at a general meeting so as to bind the MCST and all SPs/tenants. All SPs/tenants must ensure that such installations are consistent with the design guidelines by-law.

The Building and Construction Authority (BCA) issued a circular "Installation of Additional Safety Barrier/Grille at Balcony of a Lot" in 2013 to all MCSTs to remind them of (1) the above prescribed by-law that the owner of an individual unit shall not be prevented from installing any device/structure that prevents harm to children and (2) the need to set the design guidelines for such devices/structures for their development to address the issue of uniformity of appearance of such structures with the rest of the building. To further heighten awareness about this, we will send another circular to all MCSTs and continue to raise this issue to the MCSTs whom we meet periodically through our dialogues.

Chin Chi Leong
Commissioner of Buildings
Group Director, Building Plan and Management
Building and Construction Authority

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