May 30, 2009


Packed dorms: Owners rapped

At least 87 warning letters have been sent out to errant landlords

By Ang Yiying

A HOME is not a dorm, hostel or boarding house and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) has sent enforcement notices to owners of at least 87 units in People's Park Complex to make sure this remains the case.

The owners have two weeks to comply, or risk court action that can lead to jail and fines.

More such URA notices are expected to go out to other unit owners in the Chinatown building in the coming weeks.

Already, the 87 or so units which serve as hostels and dorm comprise 30 per cent of the flats there. So far, owners of three units have complied with the order, said a URA spokesman.

If convicted of unauthorised use, owners or landlords of the premises may be fined up to $200,000 or jailed up to 12 months or both. If the offence continues after conviction, a fine of up to $10,000 per day may be imposed.

Earlier this month, The Straits Times reported that many of the 288 residential units there appeared to have been partitioned. Other residents have complained of overcrowding, frequent lift breakdowns, noise and litter.

The URA spokesman said leasing out the flats on a short-term basis - such as daily, weekly or monthly - is an infringement of the Planning Act.

Owners might have run afoul of several regulations stipulated by agencies.

Separately, the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) has issued at least 18 notices this month to unit owners at the complex asking for unauthorised structures to be taken down and extra occupants cleared.

The SCDF's Fire Code stipulates the number of people that can reside in a certain space. A regular 1,119 sq ft or 104 sq m apartment unit in People's Park Complex should not have more than seven occupants.

But residents there have observed that some units were packed to the rafters with up to 20 or 30 people in each unit.

The Manpower Ministry can go after employers if their workers are living in unsuitable conditions while the National Environment Agency can act on public health issues such as mosquito breeding.

The government officers have been making their presence felt over the past weeks. Residents say the officers have been knocking on doors and taking photographs of flat interiors.

This week, when ST revisited the People's Park Complex - now repainted bright green and yellow - many of the units still looked like they were being occupied by more people than in a typical family unit.

While some residents say there has not been much change, others have noticed slight improvements: fewer lift breakdowns, and less rubbish in the common areas. But some 'spring cleaning' appears to be taking place, with mattresses or partition pieces left at the common lift landings.

Mr Jeff Teo, 33, has noticed that his neighbouring unit, which housed an estimated 20 foreign workers at one time, is now quieter.

But he said: 'The tide may come back when the storm dies down.'

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