April 1, 2007

Dream home nightmare
Retirees Maimonah Mohamed and her husband Ahmad Ahsan among 95 S'porean homeowners left in the lurch after JB court okays auction by bank
By Nur Dianah Suhaimi

RETIRED teacher Maimonah Mohamed is at her wits' end. After a six-year legal battle, she is now in danger of losing the dream home she bought in Johor Baru nine years ago.
The JB high court has ruled that her terrace house, along with 94 other Singaporean-owned units in the Taman Permata residential estate, must be auctioned off by the bank.

If they cannot persuade the Court of Appeal and Federal Court to overturn the decision, some of the owners may be homeless.

Many of the owners are retirees and, like Madam Maimonah, paid for their houses in cash, often with their pension money.

Said Madam Maimonah: 'I've exhausted two-thirds of my Central Provident Fund money on this house. I can't believe I'm going to lose it just like that. That's 40 years of savings down the drain.'

Madam Maimonah paid RM333,000 ($146,000) for her house. Others paid as much as RM750,000.

Fortunately, she still has a four-room flat in Telok Blangah. Others are not so lucky.

Retiree Miss R. Jaafar, 50, sold off her four-room flat in Tampines to stay in JB. 'I don't have any other house apart from this one. If the bank takes it away, I'll be homeless,' she said.

The homeowners' woes started when the developer, Focus Development Sdn Bhd, went bust around 2000.

Although the 136 houses were already built by then, there was no electricity supply, street lights or main roads leading to the estate.

The swimming pool, tennis courts and exercise stations promised to the buyers were also not built.

When the bank, AmBank Berhad, took over the unfinished project in 2001, the owners found out that because their payments went to the developer and not the bank, they did not have the title deeds. Hence, they were not the recognised owners.

Focus Development had used the estate as collateral to secure a loan.

The houses, unoccupied for four years, started falling apart. Some of the owners spent RM50,000 to RM100,000 each on repairs, on top of the collective RM350,000 cost of getting utilities hooked up and the main access road built.

The biggest blow came in 2005, when they thought they could finally move in.

Residents' committee head Mrs S. Marican said: 'Commissioned photographers suddenly turned up and took pictures of our houses. They told us a date had already been set for our houses to be auctioned off.'

Today, what was once planned to be a posh estate is now forlorn and dilapidated. The gardens of the abandoned houses are overrun with weeds - and the only 'facilities' in sight are a security post and children's playground.

With the help of a lawyer, the owners halted the auction temporarily, but now the court has decided the estate belongs to the bank.

The bank and its lawyers have declined comment.

The owners' lawyer, Mr Rosli Kamaruddin, said the case is not over yet. He is taking the case to the Court of Appeal at Putrajaya. If they lose again, he can take it to the Federal Court.

Some owners have had enough. One Singaporean, who wanted to be known only as Mr Wong, has posted an Urgent Sale sign outside his house and cannot wait to get rid of it, even if at a loss.

'The place looks like a ghost town now. My wife and I don't want to stay there,' he said.

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THE JB DEVELOPER WENT BUST and now the place is falling apart. Planned as a posh estate, it is a ghost town now with gardens overrun with weeds. -- WANG HUI FEN