For his daughters, he fought en bloc battle alone

IT HAS been his home for about 30 years, one he bought with his late parents. His two daughters attend school close by and they have pleaded with him not to sell the apartment.

His is a familiar dilemma for minority dissenters caught up in en bloc deals across Singapore. Some have, like him, fought determinedly to cling to their homes.

But in one respect, 52-year-old business consultant Ken Lee has gone where none has yet.

Single-handedly, he has taken his case against the $202-million sale of Airview Towers to the authorities and won it twice. Each time, the father of two, who has had no legal training, represented himself.

Then on Thursday came a reversal of fortune that left him bewildered.

After both the Strata Titles Board (STB) and the High Court threw out the sale of the drab, 100-unit estate on River Valley Road — on a technicality — the Court of Appeal overturned the lower court’s decision and threw the case back to the STB.

He has also been ordered to pay his opponents’ legal costs for the STB, High Court and Court of Appeal hearings. Today understands this amount, to be decided in court, could be anywhere from $150,000 to $300,000.

“I am confused and disappointed, but I will take it in my stride,” Mr Lee told Today.

During an hour-long chat on Friday at a cafe, Mr Lee — who was initially reluctant to be interviewed — seemed guarded and declined to be photographed.

Mr Lee, who travels frequently for work, had bought the apartment at Airview Towers some three decades ago. He now lives there with wife and two daughters, who are in Secondary 1 and 4.

He told Today his decision to fight the en bloc sale was partly about fulfilling a vow to his children.

“They said: ‘Papa, if you sign, we’ll throw rotten tomatoes at you.’ They know I am keeping my promise to them,” he said. “For me, it’s a home. I lived there with my parents for a long time before they passed on.”

A pragmatist, he had originally decided that if 80 per cent of the owners agreed to the sale, he “wouldn’t go against it, since that is the law”.

And so sure was he that this consent would be obtained that he shopped around for a new home and bought a “replacement unit” in April last year, which he renovated. He is now leasing out the new place.

So, why did he lodge an objection? Because he felt the proper application process “had not been followed” (see box).

Why not rally the other minority dissenters behind his cause?

“I don’t rope people. If they come and support, I am thankful,” he said.

Mr Lee said he has not decided if he would engage a lawyer for the next STB hearing, saying that it would add to his legal costs should he lose again.

So far, he says, he has experienced no animosity from the other residents, many of whom — like Mr Lee — have already bought new homes.

Many neighbours are still friendly, he said, although there were a few “unhappy that their plans were not working out”.

Had the sale gone according to plan, they should all have moved out this month.

Said Mr Lee: “If they had done everything properly, this is the time everyone would be shaking hands and saying their goodbyes.”

THE Airview SAGA

Last July, Mr Lee filed an objection to the sale, saying due process was not followed.

The sale committee had applied for the estate to go en bloc after the legal quota of 80 per cent of signatures was attained. Listed property player Bukit Sembawang, which won the site tender, was planning a 36-storey condominium project.

But then Mr Lee found that two of the units had changed hands during the one-year period given for residents’ assent to be garnered – and the new owners had not signed the collective sale agreement in time.

The STB voided the en bloc application as the two new owners could not be included in the consensus that had expired; their consent was needed for the sale to proceed. The majority owners appealed, but the High Court dismissed their case on the same grounds.

On Thursday, the Court of Appeal overturned that decision – ruling that the order of sale would apply as long as 80 per cent of signatures in assent were garnered within 12 months. This is to avoid the deal being complicated should owners change their minds and transfer ownership.

The plaintiffs are represented by Senior Counsel Harry Elias, Foo Soon Yien and Toh Wei Yi of Harry Elias Partnership.

Source : Today – 26 Apr 2008

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