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Leakage - A strata living nightmare

If you live in a high rise building and have an inter-floor leakage issue, you can be rest assured that you are not alone. Inter-floor leakage is without a doubt one of the biggest problems faced by many dwellers of high rise buildings.

Whilst the leakage may appear only in a particular parcel, the source of the leakage may lie in the parcel above or even elsewhere. The cooperation of more than one party is therefore required; without which one cannot even begin to identify the problem, let alone solve it.

Two issues must be identified when there is an inter-floor leakage. Firstly, the source of the leakage and secondly, the person or body responsible for repair or rectification. Who is supposed to identify the source of the leakage to start with?

The person or body responsible of course, you may say, but how do you know who is responsible before the cause of the problem is ascertained? A bit of a chicken and egg situation arises.

 

New Act

Will the new management Act answer to all ceiling leakages?

In February 2013 the Strata Management Act 2013 (SMA) was passed by Parliament. With that came a presumption in law, under Section 142 of the SMA, that if the leakage is on the ceiling, then such leakage is presumed to be from the parcel above unless it is proven otherwise.

So, if you have a leakage from your ceiling, go to your upstairs neighbour and tell him/her that he/she is responsible and must therefore find the source of the leakage and do the repair. What if he/she disclaims responsibility?

Simple. You just quote Section 142 of the SMA. What a magical section with a “one fits all” answer to ceiling leakages! I thought so too when I first read Section 142, but I was not completely right for the law does not place the entire responsibility squarely on the upstairs parcel owner.

It was to be another couple of years before the SMA was implemented in June 2015 but the good news is that with that came also the implementation of the Strata Management (Maintenance & Management) Regulations 2015 (SMR).

Many thanks to those (including HBA volunteers) who worked tirelessly on drafting and fine tuning the provisions of the SMR, we now have some definite answers on what to do if you have a leakage from your ceiling.

 

Who is responsible?

In dealing with inter-floor leakage one must not just look at Section 142 of the SMA but also Part XV of the SMR.

Indeed it is Part XV of the SMR which tells you what to do if you discover dampness, moisture or water penetration from your ceiling or if you were to go home one day only to find that it is raining in your apartment.

Go to the developer if you are still covered by the defects liability provisions.

If the leakage is still covered by the provisions of your sale and purchase agreement (SPA), follow the provisions of your SPA.

For homebuyers, these are typically cases where the leakage or defect occurs during the defects liability period, and which the housing developers are required to rectify, as provided in the statutory SPA.

 

JMB/MC/Management first in the line of responsibility – regulation 56

If the leakage is not one which is covered by the SPA, then notice may be served by the owner of the affected parcel on the developer or the joint management body (“JMB”) or the management corporation (“MC”) or the subsidiary management corporation (“sub-MC”), as the case may be.

This is provided for in regulation 56(1) of the SMR. What regulation 56 essentially means is that you serve notice on the body responsible for the maintenance and management of the common property, which for convenience I shall refer to as “the management”.

So, now you see, the party first in the line of responsibility is not your upstairs neighbour but the management.

Once notice is received, the management must, within seven days, carry out an inspection to determine the cause of the leakage and the party responsible for rectification (regulation 57).

Thereafter, the management must issue a “Certificate of Inspection” stating the cause of the inter-floor leakage as well as the party responsible for rectification (regulation 59). A standard form certificate for this purpose can be found in Form 28 under the Second Schedule of the SMR.

So, what is the purpose of Section 142, you may ask? Section 142 merely creates a presumption that the defect lies in the parcel above.

In practical terms, this does nothing towards resolving any inter-floor leakage issues other than perhaps as a starting point for inspection.

After all, one cannot possibly rectify a defect which causes the leakage until and unless the actual defect is identified.

The legal implication of Section 142, however, is perhaps best left to those much more qualified than I but I do wonder if this statutory presumption alone can be a valid ground for holding the upstairs parcel owner responsible and if so under what circumstances in light of the provisions of the SMR.

 

Determining factor(s)

Under regulation 58 of the SMR, the management must take into account not just the aforesaid presumption but also the following matters which to my mind are far more relevant once the defect is identified:-

(1) that any defect in something which serves more than one parcel is a common property defect; and

(2) that any defect in something which serves only one parcel is a defect of that particular parcel even though that something is situated in common property or in void space.

In other words, the determining factor is not the location of that defective something but which parcels that something serves.

If it serves just one parcel, that particular parcel owner is primarily responsible and must rectify the defect failing which the management shall carry out the rectification works and charge the expenses to that particular parcel owner.

I say primarily because whilst regulation 61 of the SMR imposes the obligation on a specific parcel owner such obligation is expressly stated to be without prejudice to that parcel owner seeking indemnity from someone else.

That of course begs the question of who can be held liable for such indemnity; a question which is beyond the scope of this article but I certainly will not rule out any parcel owner, including the affected parcel owner, who contributes towards the defect or any delay in the rectification of the defect.

The decision of the management is, as expected, not final. Anyone not satisfied with a decision made against him/her may refer to the Commissioner Of Buildings (COB) who shall ascertain the cause of the leakage and the party responsible in accordance with regulation 64(1) and (2) and the decision of the COB shall be complied with by all parties concerned.

 

Grant access for inspection or risk prosecution

It goes without saying: that neither inspection nor rectification works can be effectively carried out without access to all relevant parcels and common property. Hence, the imposition of a statutory obligation on all relevant parties to give access as provided by regulation 63(1) of the SMR comes as no surprise at all.

Whoever fails to give access to the party carrying out the inspection commits an offence! And the punishment is severe too; a fine of up to RM50,000 or imprisonment of up to three years or both, under regulation 63(2).

Given that the lack of cooperation on the part of some parcel owners/occupiers has remained one of the main causes of delay in resolving inter-floor leakage problems, these provisions are definitely a step in the right direction.

It does puzzle me, however, that whilst a failure to give access for inspection tantamount to an offence, the same does not seem to apply to a failure to give access for rectification.

Some of you cynics out there may be tempted to brush this aside as something unlikely to be enforced by the authorities but do you want to take that chance? Do you really want to risk prosecution over something as simple as giving access for inspection and/or rectification?

Beside, now that the Strata Management Tribunal has been set up you may be slapped with an order much sooner than you think.

 

- The Star, 22 August 2015, article written by Mr Chang Kim Loong, the honorary secretary-general of the National House Buyers Association

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