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Not my problem!

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PROPERTY RULES

Not my problem!

Lina is the registered owner of an apartment unit at Wacky Apartments. Upon moving in, Lina noticed defects in the electrical main panel located inside her unit. It appears that five appliances—the refrigerator, freezer, iron, dryer, and washing machine—are connected to only one fuse.

Driven by fear of fire, Lina immediately reported the matter to the Wacky Condominium Corp. ( “WCC”), a non-stock corporation organized for the purpose of holding title to and managing the common areas of Wacky Apartments. WCC replied by saying that under Section 3 of the House Rules and Regulations, it is the duty of the unit owner to maintain the electrical and plumbing systems at his or her expense.

Lina later sought professional assistance from a private electrical consultant. The consultant concluded that the wirings in her apartment unit are unsafe, hazardous and did not comply with the Philippine Electrical Code.

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On Lina’s request, the City Building Office conducted an inspection of her unit. The said office recommended, among others, the replacement of the fusible load center, the embedded circular loom, and the fusible load center with panel board and circuit breaker.

Upon being advised of the above findings, WCC’s in-house architect wrote Lina and demanded her to undertake the recommended repairs within 10 days from receipt of his letter. WCC, through its board of directors, further adopted a resolution imposing a daily fine of P1,000 on Lina should she fail to cause the repair within the deadline set.

Lina refused to undertake the repairs and to pay the fine. She claimed that since the electrical main panel forms part of the common areas, the repairs thereof are not her problem.

Q: Does the electrical main panel form part of the common areas?

A: Yes. Section 5 of the Wacky Apartments Master Deed provides that the common elements or areas of the Project (herein referred to as the “Common Areas”) shall comprise all parts of the Project other than the Units, including without limitation the following:

xxx (e) All central and appurtenant equipment and installations for common facilities and utilities such as power, light, sewerage, drainage, garbage chute, and water connections (including all outlets, pipes, ducts, wires, cables and conduits used in connection therewith, whether located in Common Areas or in Units); xxx xxx (f) All other parts of the Project and all apparatus, equipment and installations therein which are for common use or necessary or convenient for the existence, maintenance of safety of the Project.

Moreover, Section 3 (e) of R.A. 4726 defines “common areas” as “the entire project except all units separately granted or held or reserved.” Section 6 (a) of the same law provides:

a.) x x x The following are not part of the unit: bearing walls, columns, floors, roofs, foundations, and other common structural elements of the buildings; lobbies, stairways, hallways and other areas of common use, elevator equipment and shafts, central heating, central refrigeration and central air conditioning equipment, reservoir, tanks, pumps and other central services and facilities, pipes, ducts, flues, chutes, conduits wires and other utility installations, wherever located, except the outlets thereof when located within the unit.

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The electrical panel’s location inside the unit notwithstanding, it is not automatically considered as part of it. The above-quoted pertinent provisions of the law and the master deed contemplate that “common areas,” e.g. utility installations, may be situated within the unit.

Where a statute is clear, plain and free from ambiguity, it must be given its literal meaning and applied without attempt to interpret. There should be no departure from the words of the statute, for speech is the index of intention.

Q: Who is responsible to maintain and repair the common areas?

A: Section 3 of the Master Deed provides that all maintenance of and repairs of any Unit (other than the maintenance of and repairs to any of the Common Areas contained therein not necessitated by the act or negligence of the owner, tenant or occupant of such Unit) shall be made [by], and at the expense of, the owner of such unit.

In a multi-occupancy dwelling such as Apartments, limitations are imposed under R.A. 4726 (The Condominium Act) in accordance with the common interest and safety of the occupants therein which at times may curtail the exercise of ownership.

To maintain safe, harmonious and secured living conditions, certain stipulations are embodied in the duly registered deed of restrictions, in this case the Master Deed, and in house rules which the condominium corporation, WCC, is mandated to implement.

Upon acquisition of a unit, the owner not only affixes his conformity to the sale; he also binds himself to a contract with other unit owners.

Unquestionably, the fuse box controls the supply of electricity into the unit. Power is sourced through jumper cables attached to the main switch which connects the unit’s electrical line to the apartment’s common electrical line. It is an integral component of a power utility installation. WCC cannot disclaim responsibility for the maintenance of the apartments’ electrical supply system solely because a component thereof is placed inside a unit.

Both the law and the Master Deed refer to utility installations as forming part of the common areas, which reference is justified by practical considerations. Repairs to correct any defects in the electrical wiring should be under the control and supervision of respondent to ensure safety and compliance with the Philippine Electrical Code, not to mention security and peace of mind of the unit owners.

(Source: Limson vs. Wack Wack Condominium Corporation, G.R. No. 188802, February 14, 2011)

Ma. Soledad Deriquito-Mawis is currently the Dean for the Lyceum of the Philippines University; president of the Philippines Association of Law Schools; and Senior Partner, Gatchalian Castro & Mawis Law Office

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