9 ways your renovation could get you in trouble with your condo's MCST

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Even a billionaire with a penthouse can’t fully avoid tangles with his management council, which is also known as the Management Corporation Strata Title (MCST).

A 2018 court case has clarified the definition of “common property”, and slapped a $40,000 on a billionaire resident for his renovation works at his Ardmore Park penthouse. That’s probably the equivalent of fining you like, $2, given his net worth.

Still, for those who can’t afford the trouble (and exorbitant legal fees), here are some key things to watch out for.

1. Renovating in a way that significantly changes the exterior appearance, even if it’s just your own unit

The courts have issued a clarification on the term “common property”, following the dispute between billionaire Sit Kwong Lam and the Ardmore Park management committee.

Dr Sit installed timber decks over the roof outside his unit, as well as parts of the floor, and on two ledge areas on the unit’s façade. He also installed an extra air-conditioning vent.

The condo management council decided they weren’t having it, and they wanted it all gone.

They eventually won the resulting legal battle, and the court clarified that:

“Any area or installation that could affect the appearance of a building in a strata development, or that was part and parcel of the fabric of the building, could, by its mere presence, be ‘enjoyed’ by some or even all subsidiary proprietors of the development.”

To be safe, have your interior designer run their plans past the Managing Agent.

Oh wait…

2. Your Managing Agent can approve the wrong things

The last time this happened was at Clover By The Park. The previous Managing Agent (MA) wrongly approved a resident’s renovations (floor-to-ceiling glass windows at the balcony).

As it was in breach of the estate’s by-laws, the management council took the resident to court.

The court ruled in favour of the management council, but the legal fees cost tens of thousands of dollars, which other homeowners had to foot.

Sometimes, it’s best to seek another round of clarifications from management committee members, just to be sure.

3. Your contractor doesn’t apply for a permit when their workers are moving heavy equipment into the lifts

It’s important that your contractor inform the MA if their workers have heavy equipment to move into the lift. Usually, the MA will arrange for the lift to be padded to prevent damage.

If your sub-contractors start dragging items into an unprotected lift, and they scuff the flooring or break a lift mirror, you could be the one footing the bill.

And believe us, at least one resident who sees it will complain; they’re already unhappy that your renovations are taking up a whole lift.

4. Your contractor didn’t dispose of the garbage properly

Always make sure your contractor has the garbage hauled away. Pay extra attention when the floor is being hacked up, or when you have carpentry work done.

The contractor’s workers might decide to save themselves a bit of trouble and just dump all the rubbish at the wrong spot.

If they dump chunks of rubble and wood at the corner of the carpark or try to force it down the garbage chute (thus choking it for the whole block), the condo MCST will come after you.

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5. The noisy activities aren’t confined to the given hours

You’d think this is common sense, but it happens all the time. When your contractor (or subcontractors) are running short on time, your neighbours might hear a drill going off at 8pm. Because one of the subcontractors decides he “just needs to make three small holes” to finish his job.

Work crews do try to sneak “just one minute” with a drill and hammer, especially if they just need a few quick adjustments to work on bigger things. But do remind them to stick within the allotted hours, as residents will be quick to complain.

6. Your renovation site breeds vermin

This can happen if the work crew drops bits of their lunch everywhere, or leave big bowls of stagnant water at the end of the day. Not only will your unit start to attract insects (and with them, lizards), but it will also begin to affect the neighbours.

And few things irritate MAs more than having to call in a fumigation crew because nearby units experience their own tide of vermin.

Be sure that your contractors are keeping the place clean, rather than leaving it for the “general cleaning” crew that comes afterwards (if you didn’t pay for one, then you’d have to do the cleaning).

7. You put up decorative door and window grilles

Ever since January 2015, when a family won the right to put up safety railings at One North Residences, the courts have decided that “children’s safety must be paramount even if the grilles may affect the appearance of the building”.

As such, you can go ahead and install grilles if it’s for child safety purposes. The management can no longer refuse this.

However, you can be denied from installing a decorative door grille or window grille. This is especially if it’s deemed to ruin the appearance of the development.

8. Your renovation works overrun beyond the given time period

Note that the MA can turn you down in extreme cases. For instance, there have been extensions, and neighbours have now lived with the noise for half a year.

This can leave you with half-completed renovations, and you may need to wait for several months before you’re able to apply for another round of works.

Make sure the contract with the interior designer is clear on when works are completed, as well as penalties or remedial actions if works are not finished on time.

9. Your renovation debris or equipment spill out onto common areas

Make sure your renovations don’t result in features that jut out onto common property paths.

Also, avoid renovations that could affect landscaped areas, such as large coverings or partitions that block the sunlight from reaching the green patches.

You can be sure that the moment your renovation touches common property areas, the management will ask you to remove it at your expense.

This article was first published in 99.co.