Avoiding the courts

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2000, 12:00am

Once again, an owners' corporation has got itself into trouble. Even though the Lands Tribunal ruled that it had committed procedural errors in imposing a $60 management fee increase, office-bearers of the Incorporated Owners of Chee On Building still thought they were in the right.

To their disappointment, the Court of Appeal confirmed they were wrong. And that was after they had spent thousands of times more than the $60 at issue on legal fees, which will now have to be shared among the building's owners.

Most lawyers would agree that it is not worthwhile to take a case to court, even over a matter of principle, if the amount of money in dispute is minuscule compared to the costs involved. The Chee On corporation's office-bearers could have dealt with the original complaint from three owners by passing another resolution to approve the fee increase strictly according to the rules.

That this was not done was unfortunate. At a time when the Government encourages building owners to band together to look after their properties, media publicity on this case is bound to have a dampening effect on some owners' enthusiasm to take part in building management.

The case indicates a need for the Government to strengthen its advisory service to office-bearers of owners' corporations through the district offices. As many building management disputes are aggravated by animosity between the protagonists involved, merely furnishing owners with information about their rights and obligations may not be adequate. The Chee On case also shows that even telling them to go to the Lands Tribunal to sort out disputes may sometimes be counter-productive.

A cheaper and far more effective solution would be to establish a mediation mechanism at the district level so that disputes could be settled in a less confrontational manner and with due regard to personal feelings.