The developer, architect and the main contractor of a condominium in Singapore have defeated an action against them in the country’s High Court which argued they were liable for defects in the building.

WongPartnership, which represented the developer in the case, said the landmark decision affects the entire construction industry in Singapore as it clarifies the extent and scope of the liability in a claim for building defects.

“The decision also clarifies the right to claim a breach in a developer’s statutory duty to maintain a development,” according to a news alert on the case from the law firm, which represented Mer Vue Developments. “This finding has far-reaching consequences on condominium owners and their management corporations as well as on developers, main contractors and architects, the key professionals in the construction industry and all building projects.”

The case saw MCST, the management corporation of The Seaview Condominium, sue Mer Vue Developments, the property’s developer; Tiong Aik Construction, the main contractor, and RSP Architect Planners & Engineers, the architect, as well as the mechanical and electrical engineers, for a list of defects in the development’s common property. Wong Partnership said the claim was both in contract and tort, which is often the case in legal actions involving building defects claims by management corporations against developers.

Independent contractor question
In the preliminary hearing, Mer Vue, Tiong Aik and RSP argued that the defence of "independent contractor" applied to them because they were not liable for the alleged defects. WongPartnership argued that, in the Seasons Park case, the Court of Appeal had ruled that a developer can avail himself of the independent contractor defence when sued in tort by the management corporation. For this defence to work, the developer must show he has delegated or entrusted the duties of design and construction to independent competent contractors, such as consultants or the main contractor to design and build the development. However, in this case, MCST, which was represented by Samuel Seow Law Corporation, sought to challenge the applicability of this defence because it argued the developer had exercised control over the consultants and main contractor so they were not independent. The High Court rejected this allegation.

In this litigation, WongPartnership added, Justice Chan Seng Onn clarified for the first time that the architect and main contractor can also rely on the independent contractor defence. The practical implications of this ruling would mean that the MCST would have to pursue its claim in tort against the sub-consultants or subcontractors responsible for the design or construction.

Christopher Chuah, Nikki Ngiam, Ng Pei Yin and Jasmine Low from the WongPartnership, which is rated as outstanding for dispute resolution and highly recommended for construction and real estate work in the 2016 edition of Asialaw Profiles, represented Mer Vue. Samuel Seow, Kelvin Chia and Jolene Lim of Samuel Seow Law Corporation acted for MCST.