Landmark en bloc ruling

Judge sets out role of Strata Titles Board and which of its findings can be challenged

IT IS a situation that may apply to some en bloc deals: The selling price could have been higher if the sales committee or its agent had tried harder to secure a better deal.

In the case of Horizon Towers, a potential buyer was even standing by with a higher price than the one that was eventually chosen.

But that cannot be reason enough to disallow an en bloc sale, according to Justice Choo Han Teck as he brought a protracted saga to an end.

In a landmark decision, the judge set out the role of the Strata Titles Board as well as which of its findings can be challenged, and which ones cannot.

When it comes to price, as long as the STB finds that a purchase price is fair, which would make it a “finding of fact” in legal parlance, it would have fulfilled its duty and is entitled to approve an en bloc sale.

Minority residents at Horizon Towers who argued that the $500-million sale to Horizon Partners Private Limited (HPPL) was done in bad faith – as evidenced by Vineyard Holdings’ higher offer of $510 million :- had failed to prove their case.

Justice Choo found “no error of law” and said the High Court “cannot and will not” interfere in findings of fact made by the STB.

“Whether it was the right time to sell, or that the sales committee ought to have made a little more effort to persuade the purchaser to offer more, are not crucial matters that oblige the STB to withhold approval.

“Nor would it be the concern of the STB that some, or all, of the appellants might have consented had the Vineyard offer been made known to all of them,” he said.

If the STB were to make such enquiries, it “would never get its job done within the time limited”.

The minority owners had appealed to reverse a Dec 7 decision by STB to approve the sale. But if residents believe that the sales committee had “deliberately or negligently” not pursued a higher offer, resulting in a financial loss to them, the recourse is through litigation in the courts, said Justice Choo.

“It is necessary for this point to be made, not to encourage further litigation, but to emphasise that a subsidiary proprietor who does not wish to sell his unit can only object to the en bloc sale on such grounds as the relevant statutes allow,” he said.

And, the statutes do not allow the STB to deal with “allegations and counter-allegations against parties” as its tribunal hearing does not give such parties “the full recourse of trial to defend themselves”.

He concluded that all sides were treated fairly in this deal as “fairness requires only that the rules and regulations of each en bloc deal to be properly and duly administered”.

Source : Today – 18 Jul 2008

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