Hot and bothered over condo’s cooling towers
The Straits Times
Melissa Lin
19 March 2017

View of Leonie Towers (white) from the Rivershire, on March 17, 2017. Tower A is nearer to camera and Tower B is on the right.    ST Photo: Lim Sin Thai

In 1979, Madam Yap Choo Moi moved into the Leonie Towers condominium off Orchard Road.

Over the past four decades, the businesswoman has never installed air-conditioning in her home. Instead, she has relied on the condo's central air-con system, which is serviced by cooling towers on the rooftop.

When the vast majority of her neighbours decided to have the ageing towers dismantled last year, Madam Yap, 67, objected - and hired a lawyer to fight her case.

She won.

In an interview with The Sunday Times last week, held in her well-furnished living room, Madam Yap, who is also known as Ms Lee Lee Langdale, said: "I've been very happy with the system and have been using it for years... If there are any problems with it, it should be fixed."

In a novel ruling, the Strata Titles Board says the laws do not allow Leonie Towers' management to dispose of common property.

She got her wish when the Strata Titles Board (STB) earlier this month blocked the management corporation's (MC) bid to dispose of the cooling towers.

The saga began last September, when the MC held an extraordinary general meeting about removing the system.

It had existed for almost twice its estimated service life of 20 years.

Consulting engineers had found, among other things, that the system's steel piping had corroded, requiring expensive replacements.

Its water quality was poor, meaning that there was the likelihood that the water droplets contained bacteria that, when breathed in, could cause a type of pneumonia known as Legionnaires' disease.

At the meeting, unit owners were told that major repairs would cost $520,000 and a replacement system would cost $750,000, while removing it would cost only $85,000.

Leonie Towers comprises 92 units in two 25-storey tower blocks. Each tower is serviced by two central cooling towers.

With just 40 per cent of residents using them - the rest had installed their own air-con units, the majority decided that the towers should just be dismantled. The MC's proposal was backed by 82 per cent of unit owners.

The unit owners then enacted a by-law under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management (BMSM) Act to empower the MC to proceed.

But Madam Yap applied to the STB to invalidate the by-law, and succeeded. Now, the cooling towers will stay put.

"We went to the STB because that was the only thing we could do if the condo is doing something that we think it shouldn't be doing," said Madam Yap's husband, Mr Roger Gaimster Langdale, 81, a retired accountant.

Keeping cool in the heat

In general, cooling towers extract waste heat to the atmosphere. In air-conditioning systems, they chill water to run the air-con.

Part of the maintenance fees that Leonie Towers' owners pay goes towards the upkeep of the cooling towers. But each owner's electricity bill depends on how often he switches on the air-conditioning.

The couple, who did not want to be photographed, declined to say how much they spent on legal fees, and whether ties with their neighbours have been affected. Mr Langdale is part of the condo's management council.

Madam Yap had told the STB that she relied on the cooling towers and removing them would require her to install a new system, which would "lower her quality of life". She declined to explain further.

Another unit owner who wants the system retained, a housewife who wanted to be known only as Mrs Wu, 70, told The Sunday Times: "The central air-con system was something we always had. It's working well, why demolish it?"

The board ruled that no provision in the BMSM Act or the Land Titles (Strata) Act allows for an MC to dispose of common property.

"It is noteworthy that even when this could be done, it could only be done by way of a unanimous resolution," it added in judgment grounds issued on March 3.

The MC will be holding another extraordinary general meeting on Friday to decide if it should appeal and, if so, pay the legal costs - estimated to be up to $60,000 - using management funds.

Another battle looms.

Mrs Wu said of the MC's plan to appeal: "Why would we use our own money to fight ourselves?"


Leonie Towers case: Condo owners want to take cooling towers spat to court
The Strait Times
K.C. Vijayan
27 March 2017

The central cooling tower on one of the blocks at Leonie Towers. A majority of residents want to dismantle the condo's cooling system.  ST Photo: Lim Yaohui

The spat between Leonie Towers residents and a lone dissenter over the bid to tear down the condominium's cooling towers is set to be taken to the High Court for a final decision.

At an extraordinary general meeting held last Friday, owners voted by a 80.9 per cent majority to appeal against the Strata Titles Board's decision earlier this month.

Leonie Towers' management corporation (MC) wanted to dismantle the cooling system, which has outlived its estimated service life of 20 years. The MC was backed by 82 per cent of unit owners at a meeting last year.

The owners then enacted a by-law under the Building Maintenance and Strata Management (BMSM) Act to allow the MC to proceed.

But dissenting unit owner Yap Choo Moi, 67, successfully applied to the Strata Titles Board (STB) to invalidate the by-law last year.

The three-member STB, in a novel ruling, blocked the MC's bid. It said the relevant laws do not allow the MC to dispose of common property like the air-conditioning system.

Leonie Towers, in the River Valley Road area, has 92 units in two tower blocks, each 25 storeys high.

Among other things, consulting engineers hired to study the system reported that there was corrosion in the steel piping, which required expensive replacements. Major repairs would cost $520,000, a replacement system would cost $750,000, while removing the cooling towers would cost only $85,000.

Madam Yap told the STB that removing the cooling towers would require her to install a new system, which would "lower her quality of life".

In its decision, the STB said there is no provision in the BMSM Act or the Land Titles (Strata) Act that allows for a MC to dispose of common property. And even if this could be done, it could be done only by way of a unanimous resolution, the STB said.

Leonie Towers MC chairman Pearl Lim told The Straits Times that the decision to seek the High Court's permission to appeal against the STB's decision was necessary.

"We are paying about $4,500 monthly in servicing and maintaining the cooling towers excluding the electricity bill. The cooling towers also pose safety hazards for the guards who go up there daily."

Mrs Lim said the MC will carry out mediation talks with Madam Yap to resolve the issue, with two other residents acting as mediators.

Mrs Lim credited the MC's lawyer Toh Kok Seng, who had raised the mediation option and advised that "it is always good to come to an amicable conclusion", she said.

"Our role is to serve for the general good."

Madam Yap, speaking through her lawyer Valerie Ang, said last night that she would not be in a position to comment until after the appeal has been filed.

top  contents  chapter  previous  next