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Recourse Options for Homeowners Facing Persistent Water Leaks

Water leaks in residential properties are a common yet frustrating issue that many homeowners face. In densely populated cities like Singapore, where most residents live in high-rise buildings, the problem of water leaks can be even more prevalent due to the complexities of such constructions.

The Plight of Homeowners

Imagine the distress of spending a large sum, say S$100,000, in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve water seepages through the ceiling and walls of your home, as reported earlier this year by a resident of Sengkang, Singapore. Similarly, in Tengah, new flat owners have voiced complaints about water leaks emanating from their cooling units linked to a centralised system.

Such scenarios beg the question: What can homeowners actually do when faced with persistent water leaks?

Identifying the Cause of Water Leaks

To effectively address water leaks, the first step is identifying their origin. This could be attributed to inadequate waterproofing by the contractor, poor architectural design, or issues stemming from neighbouring units or common property areas. Employing a building surveyor to ascertain the root cause is essential for a long-term solution.

For instance, if the leak originates from a neighbour’s flat, homeowners should consider arranging a joint inspection. Documenting the issue thoroughly through photos and videos with clear date and time stamps is also critical. This documentation can prove invaluable in legal disputes, providing evidence for bodies such as the Strata Titles Board or the Courts.

Legal Advice and the “Independent Contractor” Defence

Early legal consultation can offer clarity on one’s rights and potential actions. This becomes crucial especially for homeowners who aren’t the original property buyers and thus lack a direct contract with the developer. Developers often employ the “independent contractor” defence to avoid liability for construction defects. This defence absolves them if they can demonstrate due diligence in selecting their contractors and consultants, despite the negligence of these third parties.

As reported in 2011 by Today Online, the management corporation of the Seaview condominium faced issues like leaking windows and falling concrete. The main contractor and architect invoked the independent contractor defence successfully, as they had exercised reasonable care in appointing their subcontractors and consultants.

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Proposed Legislative Reforms

Given the significant investment involved in purchasing a home, the Singapore Academy of Law Building and Construction Sub-Committee has suggested several legislative changes concerning defects in private residential properties. These proposals aim to provide more robust protection for homeowners.

Imposing a Warranty

One of the key suggestions is to impose a warranty that would hold developers and main contractors accountable to both original and subsequent purchasers for any property defects. This includes serious issues like structural cracks, fire safety concerns, and inadequate waterproofing. By holding financially robust entities accountable, homeowners would have a more reliable recourse.

Extending the Limitation Period

Currently, homeowners have a six-year period from the completion of construction to initiate claims for defects. The Sub-Committee recommends extending this period to 15 years for significant defects while maintaining the six-year limit for other quality-related issues.

Compulsory Insurance

Another significant recommendation is the introduction of mandatory insurance covering the entire liability period for defects post-construction, including those caused by subcontractors. This would provide a financial safety net for homeowners affected by construction defects.

The Road Ahead

While these proposals are still under consideration, their implementation could dramatically enhance homeowners’ ability to seek effective remedies for defects like water leaks. Such changes would not only alleviate the financial and emotional burden on affected individuals but also encourage higher standards and accountability in the construction industry.

In conclusion, while homeowners currently face significant challenges in dealing with water leaks, the proposed legislative reforms offer a beacon of hope. By shifting more responsibility onto developers and main contractors, and by enhancing the mechanisms for redress, Singapore can ensure that a person’s home remains their sanctuary, free from the distress of unresolved water leaks.

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