Neighbours sue neighbours over renovations, judge calls request for one court order 'exceedingly petty'

Selina Lum
The Straits Times
May 31, 2023

The owners of two neighbouring landed houses in Bedok lived in peace for more than a decade – until renovation work on one unit resulted in a dispute that ended up in court.

The couple who lived in one house sued their neighbours for trespass.

They took issue with their neighbours for removing a brick pillar that left a gap in the rear boundary wall of their property, and for installing a fence post which required digging a hole that crossed into their land.

Mr Lindsay Paul Slader Marsh and his wife Wong Tien Chi also sued their neighbours for spray-painting large words on the side of the fence stating “Private No Entry” and “Keep Out” and for installing a surveillance camera.

They contended that these acts constituted “interference with the enjoyment or use of a place of residence”, a civil wrongdoing that is set out in the Community Disputes Resolution Act.

The four defendants are Mr Mohamed Shariff Kassim and his wife Zakiah Awang, as well as their son Amir Md Shariff and daughter-in-law Candice Too, who did not live there but managed the renovation project as the elderly couple were not in good health.

In a judgment published on Wednesday, a district judge awarded a total of $3,380 in damages to the plaintiffs.

This included $880 for the costs of repairing the gap and $2,000 in aggravated damages ordered against Mr Amir and Ms Too.

District judge Jonathan Toh found that the pillar was a fixture that belongs equally to both units, and the deliberate removal of the structure was an act of trespass.

He said Mr Amir and Ms Too should have consulted with the plaintiffs on the removal of the pillar, instead of removing the structure without warning.

Judge Toh also awarded $500 for the “minor” acts of trespass relating to the post: for digging the hole, which was later filled up with concrete, and for inserting a small bolt into the concrete kerb between the two houses.

“In my view, this was a minor issue that should have been resolved by way of friendly give and take between reasonable neighbours. It only found its way to court because the parties’ relationship had broken down by that stage,” he said.

The plaintiffs moved into their house at Lakme Terrace in 2008.

Disputes arose in August 2019 when Mr Shariff and Madam Zakiah decided to renovate the house where they have lived since 1987.

Prior to the project, the two houses were separated by a green mesh fence sitting atop a concrete kerb.

The mesh fence, a concrete wall, and a brick pillar formed the rear corner boundary wall of the plaintiffs’ property.

On Nov 11, 2019, the pillar was removed by the defendants’ contractors, leaving a gap between the mesh fence and the concrete wall.

Both sides engaged lawyers and filed Community Disputes Resolution Tribunal claims against each other. The claims were dismissed on Sept 3, 2020, for falling outside the tribunal’s jurisdiction.

On Oct 2, 2020, the defendants resumed work to build a fence post close to where the pillar used to be.

Ms Wong went over to demand that the workers stop work, resulting in a confrontation that involved the police being called.

The work on the post was eventually completed. It included installing a bolt that juts out on the side of the kerb.

The plaintiffs sought a court order for the bolt to be removed, but Judge Toh declined to do so, describing the request as “exceedingly petty”.

The judge also rejected the claims relating to the spray-painted words and the surveillance camera.

He noted that the words could barely be seen after the defendants’ fence was installed.

“The plaintiffs would only be able to read the words if they climbed to the top of their green fence and looked directly down into the gap between the fences. No reasonable person would keep doing this,” he said.

As for the surveillance camera, the judge said the defendants presented evidence that it was not pointed at the plaintiffs’ house.

The judge also rejected the plaintiffs’ claim for aggravated and punitive damages against Mr Amir and Ms Too for taunting them.

On one occasion, Ms Too allegedly said to her husband – while Ms Wong was observing them – that “she’s listening to our conversation… childish… busybody… so embarrassing” and “nothing better to do with their life”.

Judge Toh said these actions were not sufficiently connected to the acts of trespass.


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