Couple ordered to pull down 'encroaching' wall

A couple are appealing against a High Court order to pull down a dividing wall of their shophouse after it found their unit had encroached on a neighbour's property by 20 sq m for 12 years.

Justice Woo Bih Li ordered Mr Samuel Sam and his wife Chow Siow May to erect a new wall along the correct boundary and remarked that they were being "economical with the truth" in judgment grounds released yesterday.

The wall, between two sets of external windows, separates two units on the ground floor.

The couple paid $240,000 for their Dairy Farm Road property in Bukit Timah in 2001. The unit next door was bought for $90,000 by Wellspring Investments three years later. Singapore Land Authority had both units registered as being measured at 41 sq m.

Wellspring commissioned a survey in 2005 and found the actual area of its neighbour's property was 61 sq m; its unit was 21 sq m. Last year, it sought an injunction to get the dividing wall moved and for damages to be assessed.

Justice Woo rejected the couple's claim that Wellspring would have known its land was meant to be smaller as it had paid nearly three times less. He found the pair "wrongfully had the benefit" of occupying the land with "full knowledge of the encroachment".

It was unclear who built the dividing wall or when it was erected but the judge held it was immaterial to the claim if the boundary wall was already in place when the couple bought the bigger unit.

Their lawyer Godwin Campos argued Wellspring had a "windfall" when it bought the unit for such a cheap price, even though it was smaller. The couple also pointed to online property searches to show that, had both parties been buying a 41 sq m unit, they would have been paying "an unusually high price" while Wellspring would have been paying an "unusually low" sum.

But lawyers Joseph Lee and Kelvin Ong countered for Wellspring that the online searches were general and not confined to the Dairy Farm Road area. They said the couple bought their unit in 2001, yet used figures for 2002 to 2003 to back up their case.

Justice Woo agreed and concluded they had been "seeking to reap an undeserved windfall". He granted a stay of the order to have the wall pulled down, pending the outcome of an apex court appeal.

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