Sometimes, the biggest property issue you can encounter isn’t inside the house. If you’re unlucky, the next-door neighbour or the one directly upstairs can be the source of infinite headaches, whether it’s in the form of a leak or, knock on wood, a fire.
So what should you know when property damage from somewhere else reaches your doorstep or ceiling? Take note of these things and adjust your game plan accordingly.
1. THIRD-PARTY INSURANCE ISN’T MANDATORY FOR PRIVATE HOMES
Home content insurance sure has a lot of bizarre perks, like paying for groceries when your fridge goes down and whatnot. But the often overlooked feature is third-party liability. This is for situations when your fire or leak causes damages to your neighbour’s unit instead.
Insurance with third-party liability may be mandatory for cars but apparently not for private housing (for HDB flats, it’s mandatory under the Home Protection Scheme, though).
This means that, if your neighbour’s leak causes your fake ceiling to sag and look like the beginnings of Jewel Changi Airport’s indoor waterfall, they may not be able to pay you the S$10,000 or so needed to fix it. Sure, you could sue them – but that will probably just compound your costs with legal fees if they genuinely have no money for your repairs.
If it’s a neighbour’s fire, this means that you better have some kind of insurance if all your stuff burns to ashes. Because it’s actually possible that your neighbour has none.
What can you do? Make sure you buy some kind of home content insurance. Your neighbour might be the type who lives pay check to pay check, with no savings or insurance.
2. YOUR NEIGHBOUR MIGHT LIE EVEN AFTER THEY FIX THE ISSUE
Say your contractor tells you the leak is coming from upstairs or next door. You have a conversation with the neighbour, and they agree to stop using a tap or air-conditioner that’s causing it.
Of course, by this point, you would have had some sort of water damage at your end of the house. There’s probably a crack you need to patch, or waterlogged cabinets that you need to replace. Usually, your neighbour’s liable for that.
But there’s a chance that they’ll probably fix it on the sly – so that when the leaking stops, they might shrug, tell you they don’t know what they did but hey, everything’s all okay now.
It is, bluntly speaking, a way to avoid paying you for fixing your wall or ceiling.
What can you do? The only way to get them to pay is to find some sort of proof, preferably a report by a contractor. You’ll want to act fast here, while all evidence regarding the source of the leak can be found.
3. IT’S ABSURDLY DIFFICULT TO COORDINATE CONTRACTOR VISITS
It’s not a “simple issue” of getting a contractor to look at the damage. Remember: A leak, crack, or electrical issue from next door means the contractor may need to see the neighbour’s unit.
You might need to convince your neighbour to let your contractor poke around. And if they’re not inclined to do agree – why would they if they could end up paying for repairs? – they can delay the visit for weeks. The process gets even more convoluted if tenants and landlords are involved.
For example: There’s a crack in your ceiling, and you suspect it has something to do with what’s going on upstairs. Your contractor needs to have a look. However, the people living up there are tenants. So now you need to contact the landlord for permission.
But the landlord can only let you and your contractor in after informing the tenants (who may not be happy about total strangers snooping around). Those tenants might want to be present while you’re in the house. However, they may not be available on the days when your contractor is. And on the day when the two are available, the landlord from upstairs decides he wants to be present, but he’s working that day and… you get the idea.
What can you do? You just have to put your foot down. That could mean threatening to take legal action if the stalling continues. If they don’t respond, bear in mind that your inability to speak to them isn’t a barrier to legal action.
4. IF YOU’RE LOOKING TO AUTHORITIES FOR HELP, GOOD LUCK
Simply put, it’s a civil matter between you and your neighbour. Calling the police won’t be of much help, even if our Singaporean instincts regard this as a solution to 99 per cent of life’s problems.
You’ll also find there’s little that authorities, such as your condo’s management committee, can do. HDB will make more of an effort, but even then the issues will take time to resolve.
This is a bit of a shocker to most home owners; your first response will be to think: There must be someone I can call. But you’ll soon find out there really isn’t – it’s all down to you and your willingness to have awkward confrontations.
What can you do? Stop wasting time asking who to call. It’s not your property agent (though they may be able to dispense a bit of advice), not your management committee, and not the Building and Construction Authority, et cetera. Rather than waste time casting around for help, focus on getting a contractor to confirm the source of the leak. After that, seek legal assistance if they’re being uncooperative.
5. EVERYBODY FEELS IT’S UNFAIR
These situations are never fair. It’s quite possible for your neighbour’s electrical fire to burn down your whole living room, while all they suffer is a slightly singed carpet. And if it’s their leak flowing into your unit, well, they aren’t the ones who need an umbrella to go to bed.
But the sense of unfairness works both ways: Your neighbour may not have done anything wrong, but suddenly find themselves faced with a massive repair bill for your house. It’s not as if they chose to bust a pipe and make a leak happen.
Since human beings are wired for fairness though, this can prompt quite an overreaction if you don’t keep it in check.
What can you do? Be polite, even if you need to threaten legal action. There’s no way your lexicon of Hokkien vulgarities will help the situation. Remember that your neighbour is also processing the shock of the unexpected cost.
Whenever you get an email or text message about the situation, give yourself about 10 minutes before you reply (if you’re pissed). You don’t need the added grief of a harassment charge.
This story first appeared in 99.co.