Family wins case to install grille in condo balcony for child's safety

A by-law in the 2005 Building Maintenance (Strata Management) Regulations allows condo owners to install safety structures - such as grilles - to prevent harm to kids. The unit above is not the one mentioned.

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".

This article was first published on Jan 24, 2015.
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