Land Law

Citation(2003) 4 SAL Ann Rev 343
Published date01 December 2003
Date01 December 2003

17.1 The year under review saw several case law developments pertaining to, among others, caveatable interest, leases, adverse possession and strata title. These cases have further clarified the law in the areas concerned and represent a welcome addition to the general corpus of Singapore land law.

Caveatable interest

17.2 Section 115(1) of the Land Titles Act (Cap 157, 1994 Rev Ed) (‘LTA’) provides for the lodgment of a caveat by any person claiming an interest in land. ‘Interest’ in relation to land is defined in s 4(1) of the LTA to mean ‘any interest in land recognised as such by law, and includes an estate in land’. In Lim Kaling v Hangchi Valerie[2003] 2 SLR 377, the issue for the determination of the High Court was whether the power of a court to order a division of matrimonial assets under s 112(1) of the Women”s Charter (Cap 353, 1997 Rev Ed) constituted, in respect to the spouse who was not the owner of the property, an interest in land so as to support the lodgment of a caveat.

17.3 In the instant case, the defendant, the wife of the plaintiff, had lodged caveats against the plaintiff”s properties and had commenced action for judicial separation. The plaintiff found out about the caveats when he tried to sell the properties which he had bought prior to the marriage. The defendant did not contribute in any way to the purchase price of the properties. Upon application by the plaintiff for the caveats to be removed, the defendant argued that the properties were part of the matrimonial assets over which she had an equitable interest by virtue of s 112(1) of the Women”s Charter. The caveats were lodged so as to preserve the status quo pending determination of the parties” rights as regards the properties at the conclusion of the matrimonial proceedings.

17.4 S Rajendran J, in delivering the judgment of the court, correctly took the view that the power of the court under s 112(1) of the Women”s Charter did not fall within the scope of the words ‘an interest in land recognised as such by law’ in s 4(1) of the LTA. As he elaborated (at [12]):

Can the power that the court has to order the division of matrimonial assets when granting a decree of divorce, judicial separation or nullity be said to constitute a caveatable interest? It is relevant to note that — until exercised — that power remains only a power. Whilst a spouse may hope that the court will order the division of certain properties, until the order for division is in fact made, that hope will remain merely a hope: an inchoate expectation. Even after a decree nisi is pronounced, the court may not order division under s 112(1) and, even if it does, that order may not extend to the particular property/properties in question.

17.5 In this regard, Rajendran J also considered the Australian authorities of Ioppolo v Ioppolo(1978) 5 Fam LR 27 and Hayes v O”Sullivan(2001) 27 Fam LR 462 which ruled to the same effect. He had earlier considered the decision in Chai Mei Leng v Cheng William[1998] SGHC 381 which took the view that a caveatable interest would arise only when the decree nisi was pronounced. However, he agreed with the submission of counsel for the plaintiff that what was needed was an order for the actual division of the property in question.

17.6 In the event that the defendant was concerned that the plaintiff would deprive her of her rights to any property by disposing of it, Rajendran J thought that the appropriate course to take would be to institute proceedings under s 132 of the Women”s Charter for the grant of injunctive relief. The injunctions, once obtained, would constitute a caveatable interest under s 115(3)(b) of the LTA which would then enable the defendant to lodge caveats against the properties. This provision recognises a person who has obtained an injunction in respect of an estate or interest in land as one claiming an interest in land for the purposes of s 115(1) of the LTA. In the result, the defendant failed to discharge the burden that was placed on her to show that she had a caveatable interest and the caveats were ordered to be removed.

Covenant to repair

17.7 In Sie Choon Poh v Amara Hotel Properties Pte Ltd[2003] 3 SLR 703, the issue which arose for consideration was whether the landlords could rely on the exemption of liability cl 8.1 contained in a lease agreement exempting them from breach of covenant to repair. Waste water had entered the shop unit of which the plaintiff was a tenant, causing damage to the equipment and other assets therein. It was found that a leak from a severely corroded pipe, which was in a state of disrepair owing to lack of maintenance, was the cause of the incident. Under the lease agreement, the defendants as the landlords had undertaken to maintain all the common areas in good repair. There was an exemption clause which released the landlords from liability for any loss,

damage or injury suffered by the tenant not due to any gross negligence on the part of the landlords.

17.8 Lai Kew Chai J found that the defendants” pleadings were defective in that there was no admission of negligence on their part. Breach of the covenant to repair could thus be deliberate, accidental, negligent or grossly negligent. In Lai J”s opinion, the defendants had simply assumed that their breach had necessarily involved negligence and not gross negligence.

17.9 In his view (at [17]):

[I]t was incumbent on the defendants, as a matter of proof and pleading, to assert and prove that the leakage was due to their negligence. They should have set out the particulars. Then they would have brought themselves within the exemption clause. If they had done that, it would have been up to the plaintiff to assert whether the defendants were grossly negligent to preclude the defendants from relying on the exemption clause, the burden of proof having shifted to the plaintiff to assert and prove a proposition on which they place reliance.

17.10 In the circumstances, the plaintiff”s...

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