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“I had no choice”, says Mr Muthu (not his real name), “I had to rent out my 3-room flat because I lost my job and could not pay even the minimum monthly payments to the bank”. He has got to pay the bank about $750 every month for the mortgage he still owes.
“I only have a room-rental agreement with my tenants”, says Mr Muthu. He says that if he makes a contractual agreement to rent out the whole flat, then he would have to pay higher 10% property tax (as compared to 4% for owner-occupied residences) which will eat into his real income from renting his flat.
Mr Muthu resorted to renting out his flat when the restaurant he was working at as an Assistant Manager decided to retrench him in May last year. He was unable to find another job which paid him close to his last earned salary while his wife who works as a sales assistant brings home less than a thousand dollars a month. The couple has to support three school-going children too.
Their circumstances led to Mr Muthu and his family to become part of the statistics of people sub-letting their HDB flats. Fortunately, his brother took them in. They now squeeze into a common room in his brother's 5-room flat.
However, Mr Muthu laments, “In my brother’s house, my wife, children and I are second-class”. He pays his brother $600 as compensation, but claims that his brother often chides him and his children for running up the utilities costs. Tension among family members is quite evident. According to him, his children and his brother’s children (who used to be very close) do not even play together now.
“Now, we cannot even watch television together as a family. When there is no school and when we are not working, we go out and only come back home when it is time to sleep”, says Mr Muthu. What’s worse is, his brother has been threatening recently to put Mr Muthu’s family out due to a misunderstanding. “If that happens, I don’t know what I will do or where I will go”, he said.
Mr Muthu now works part-time as a security guard. He looks forward to the day he can go back to his own flat with his family. “If I can find a better paying job, I will go back. But I am almost 50 and the hospitality industry is looking for younger workers to be in management. I even tried the Integrated Resort but they were only recruiting housekeepers, waiters and cleaners. Looks like I have to live like this for some time”, grieves Mr Muthu.