Wall cracks

After staying in a strata unit for sometime, one often sees cracks on the walls or edges. It can be unsightly and probably cause for alarm for the uninitiated.

Buildings in Singapore are made from concrete (cement + sand + gravel + water). Because water is used, it would evaporate as the concrete is cast and hardened to form the columns and structures. Similarly, cement is used to plaster the walls and water is added into the cement to make it into a “paste”. When the water evaporates, the concrete / cement would crack. But this is just one of the many factors for cement cracking.

Most of the time, the wall cracks are not serious and non-threatening but rather an irritant and annoyance. The cracks can cause water seepage into the neighbouring dwelling units. It can also grow algae and make it look unsighlty. Small cracks can be sealed off and covered cosmetically by a coat of paint. Bigger cracks need water proofing work to be done at the source where water ingress. Then followed by a coat of paint for looks.

Garden Lights

One of the frustrating thing that an estate can experience is the constant tripping of garden lights especially along walkways which are heavily used. Architects often design with the ambience in mind when placing these garden lights. However, being exposed to rain and shine wears out these lights faster than those in the shade.

When a garden light trips, one could check if it were due to the light bulb fusing. If it were, a quick replacement would solve the problem. Often when an estate is already 4-5 years old, these trips are due to water / condensation getting into the light itself. The seals would have hardened and broken, unable to do its job of keeping the moisture out of the inside of the light. Electrical contacts when in touch with moisture would result in a trip. Another culprit would be the underground cable buried in the soil. If moisture were to get in, it would result in a trip too.

An inexpensive way to solve the tripping may be to replace the seal of the garden light. However, if that does not work, replacement of the whole garden light may be necessary. Issue is when 1 garden light is replaced, often it is different in design compared to the earlier installed garden lights. Since the other garden lights may also be near the end of their lives too, it may make sense to replace all at one go. The underground cables may need to be replaced too. A judgement call by Council is needed on the replacement of the garden lights and cables then.

Swimming pool cleaning

Most condominiums have a swimming as part of the facilities planned and offered by the developer to sell the project.

Maintaining a swimming pool is a lot of work. To achieve “sparkling” waters, it takes even more effort. Most estates would engage a swimming pool cleaner to maintain the swimming pool and the associated equipment – the pumping system,  filtration,  chemical injection and electrical control systems.

For an optimal cleanliness, big swimming pools should be cleaned at least twice a week. For some of the smaller estates, the cleaning is done once a week. During the cleaning process, the cleaner actually “scrubs” the bottom of the pool and the sides of the pool to remove the algae. The water surface is also skimmed to remove floating particles like leaves and toys left behind by children. The cleaning is tiring and time consuming.

At the pump room, the cleaner has to do a backwash to remove the dirt in the filters. In addition, he has to top-up the chlorine into the tank feeding the injector. Once in a while, the cleaner would rest a pump and switch the spare pump on so that the spare pump is working. All of us know that electrical equipment not used may not work after some time. So the alternating use of the pumps is necessary to ensure each of the pump is given a run to ensure a longer life.

Once a month, the cleaner has to take samples from each pool and submit them for lab analysis to check for a few parameters. Principally it is to determine the amount of bacteria in the water and also the murkiness of the water. National Environment Agency (NEA) now requires all estates to pin the lab report on the notice board for all to see. This is part of the accountability required of the pool cleaner.

Changing cleaner

When an existing cleaner is not doing a good job cleaning the estate, perhaps it is time to change the cleaner. Most of the time, before making the change, it may be necessary for the Council to identify where the gaps are before going out to get new quotes. Otherwise, the same mistake and poor cleaning results would recur.

An example would be not specifying the need for monthly water jetting to clean the car park or an annual cleaning of the estate or extra waste disposal work before and during  major holidays like Chinese New year, Hari Raya Puasa and Deepavali etc. Without these requirements written in the scope of work in the agreement, the cleaner would assume these are not required and omit doing these. Mismatch of expectations between the Council and the Cleaner happens. Consequently, the residents/Council may be unhappy with the state of affairs. Changing to a new Cleaner without addressing this would result in the same situation repeated. There have been situations where Councils changed from one Cleaner to another without achieving the results desired.

What to look for in AGM

Normally before the Annual General Meeting (AGM), your Managing Agent would prepare and send out a package of materials called the Notice for AGM. While the list of items could be endless, there are a few main items to look for in this package.

Firstly the package should give 2 weeks notice to owners if no special resolutions are presented. However, if there are special resolutons, 3 weeks notice is required by law. This is to give the owners enough time to read through, digest and prepare for the issues at hand.

Take note of the dates for last payment of Maintenance and Sinking Fund. Those in arrears cannot be nominated to be Council members. Also, note the requirements to be proxy for the actual owner of a unit.

Apart from the above, some of the usual resolutions would include:-

  1. determination of interest payable for late payments;
  2. determination of insurance to purchase for the estate;
  3. powers to Management Corporation to recover legal fees from owners for defaults;
  4. determination of the number of members for Council and nomination of Council members;
  5. appointment of auditor;
  6. appointment of managing agent;
  7. budget for coming year;
  8. special resolutions including by-laws addition, amendment or removal.

The special resolutions would normally cover one-off projects like painting of estate, water-proofing works, resurfacing of tennis courts, replacement of old switchgear / electricals etc. These are normally large outlays of expenditure from the Sinking Fund and need the AGM to approve these expenditures.

Sometimes the special resolutions cover actions to be taken by the MCST eg action against an owner for persistenly flouting the by-laws and the need to park aside funds for the legal action.

Monkeys

For some estates near the forest reserves, sometimes monkeys come over in their search for food. These normally come in a group and can be quite scary for some people. There have been instances of monkeys getting aggressive, attacking people and biting them. The other worry is what if the monkey has rabies?

According to the experts, one should not confront the monkeys, especially the alpha male nor look at them in the eyes as it means a challenge to them. The monkeys normally send an advance monkey to survey the area first. If there is no food, they will move on to other places. So, the best practice is to ensure all food is hidden away from their sight. Rubbish bins should be covered and well secured. Monkeys are very clever and they know how to use tools to open covers. When they cannot find any food, they will leave and residents can have their peace.

Vandalism

Some estates in Singapore have to contend with the problem of vandalism. The vandalism could range from childish drawings on walls to hardcore nails or screws in car tyres.

About a year ago, it was reported that a condominium in the west had a vandal who went around puncturing the residents’ car tyres with screws. There were other acts of vandalism like headlights being smashed, scratches on the body work and glue on car bonnets. In some other condominiums, paint could be splashed on cars and the car keyholes filled with hardened cement. The list is endless.

Who are these vandals and what motivated them to do what they did? Most of the time, it is the work of some mischievous children. In such an instance, the damage is normally quite mild. Sometimes bad blood between neighbours can degenerate into vandalism. Even jostles for power in Management Councils could result in one party vandalising the other party’s property. The latter situation is one when the vandalism act is most damaging.

Most of the time, estates would report the matter to the Police and hope that they are able to trace who the vandal is. But without hard evidence, it is not easy to catch the culprit. Thus, many Councils install CCTVs in the hope that the CCTVs would be able to capture the act of vandalism as evidence. But that has limitations. Most of the CCTVs can only target at main areas. Areas like the space between cars at the car park cannot be captured. A smart vandal normally would study the CCTV layout first before taking action. CCTV implementation is costly and may not be 100% effective. However, it does offer some historical help if the vandalism so happens to be at areas the CCTV was covering.

Harmonious relationships between residents would go a long way to minimise, if not prevent such vandalism from happening. Thus, Councils should pay more attention to creating a harmonious living environment in their estates.

Dengue Clusters

The National Environment Agency (NEA) has a webpage that is updated regularly to inform the public on dengue clusters –  http://www.dengue.gov.sg/subject.asp?id=74

Council and Managing Agent should track these clusters and if the clusters are moving closer to your estate, action to increase the frequency of fogging, clearing of leaves, un-used containers, water ponding etc should be done.

Water tanks

From December 31, 2011 onwards all water tanks are required to be secured with a special lock. This is the aftermath of the May 2011 case where a maid was found dead in the water tank in a HDB block in Woodlands. From today onwards, the access to the water tanks are also to be secured.

To secure the water tanks, a special bracket is required. This has to be fabricated at the moment and in due time, would be widely available. At the same time, the locks are not the usual locks available to the public. These have to be specially purchased and water supply contractors normally carry them. PUB announced these measures to limit unauthorised access to the water supply and also to improve the security and integrity of the water supply.

Councils are advised to check with their Managing Agents if the locks for the access to the water tanks have been changed and also the brackets/lockset have been changed for the water tanks. It is an offence not to change them.

Car park is flooded!

It has been raining cats and dogs the last few weeks. Suddenly the car park is flooded and everyone is panicking and rushing to get their cars to higher grounds. No one knows the cause of the flooding and how to resolve the matter.

Has your estate been in such a situation? If it happens, your estate should look at the sump pump system. Normally in the basement car park, there is a huge water “tank” or “reservoir” that is built beneath the lowest level of the car park to contain the rain water run-off. The sump could be full and the water is over flowing.

Under normal circumstances, the sump pump sensors should work and when there is a high water level, it activates the sump pump to pump the excess water into the public drains. When these sensors fail, the pump electricals tripped/failed or the sump pumps fail, then the water overflows the sump. There are normally two or more pumps. When one pump fails, the electricals (if not faulty) should be able to switch over to the spare pump. But when the sensors fail or the electrical controls are faulty, this does not happen. A water system contractor would be needed to help look into this problem.

The other possibility is the drains to this sump could be choked with debris and need to be declogged. Sometimes odd situations happen, eg, like a small soft teddy bear clogging the drain. The estate then needs to engage a plumber with high pressure water jetting equipment to do the job. The high pressure water jetting equipment is housed on a truck with a generator and the contractor needs to drive the whole vehicle in. If the car park entrance clearance is too low and the distance to the sump drains is too far, it may pose a big problem for the contractor and they may have to figure a way to get to the drains. Often the sump drains declogging needs to be done once every 2 years or so, depending on the volume of debris and the tyre dirt that is generated from the vehicular movement in the car park.