Thursday, January 1, 2009

Developer Wins Right To Newton land

Source : The Straits Times, Dec 31, 2008

Judge gives his ruling based on concept of 'adverse possession', abolished 14 years ago

AN AGE-OLD legal concept which was abolished 14 years ago has crept its way back to influence a court case involving a multi-million dollar dispute over a plot of land in Newton.

Before 1994, in a legal concept known as 'adverse possession', a party which had used a plot of land for over 12 years without the owner's permission could lay claim to the land.

But the Land Titles Act, which came into effect in 1994, was enacted to remove such claims unless the plot of land was held for a continuous 12 years before then.

The current court dispute centres on a 234 sq m strip of sloped land on the fringe of Buckley Mansions. The plot is said to be worth at least $2 million.

Property developers City Developments (CDL), which bought over Buckley Mansions in September 1999, wanted to re-develop the estate and the land around it.

But CDL then learnt that the plot was not part of the property they had bought over.

Their initial checks showed that the late Mr Syed Allowee Ally Aljunied was the last known owner but a study they commissioned also showed four others had bought an interest in the property.

The company applied to the High Court to declare that the plot belonged to them and advertised in the press for any claimants to come forward.

Two people, businessman Harun Aljunied and housewife Sharifah Fatimah Aljunied, declared their interests, claiming they were trustees of the land which belonged to the late Mr Syed Allowee.

A third person, Mr Syed Noah Aljunied, also came forward, as the great-grandson of Mr Syed Allowee, to stake his claim on the land.

However, CDL's lawyers, Mr Kenneth Pereira and Mr Rajaram Muralli Rajan, argued that their clients could still benefit from the old legal concept of 'adverse possession'.

They said that CDL had bought Buckley Mansions from Kerr Leong Heng, a firm which had developed the site and had fenced in the disputed strip as part of the private estate for more than 12 years before 1994 when the change in law was made.

The lawyers also argued that the claimants were neither direct descendants of Mr Syed Allowee nor had any links with his estate.

This plot of land in Newton had apparently belonged to the Aljunied family since the 1900s.

Justice Tay Yong Kwang noted that a long-standing neighbour Lee Jit Seam had testified that since 1971, there had been a fence enclosing the plot as if it was part of the property.

The judge said that in any case, the personal representatives of the rightful owners which historical records show were four persons to whom the plot was sold, never came forward to stake their claim.

Justice Tay said that any claims by the rightful owners did not matter as CDL had a right to the land as a result of 'adverse possession'.

Lawyers The Straits Times spoke to said the argument of 'adverse possession' had not been raised in such disputes for a long time since the law was changed 14 years ago.

Mr Harun and Madam Sharifah Fatimah, who were defended by lawyers Leslie Netto and Bevin Netto, are appealing against Justice Tay's decision.

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