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Couple in rental flat faces eviction

Shelley Thio -

Sally’s and Jacob’s only wish was to have their own home to raise their family.  When we met up with Sally, she told us they were facing eviction from their temporary home at a block of HDB flats managed by EM Services (HDB owns 75 per cent of the company).

EM Services had given the family of 5 up to 4 June to settle their outstanding arrears of S$1,891.41 or Sally, Jacob and their children will be forced out of their home.

Both Sally and Jacob are in ill health.  We noticed that Jacob’s ankles were swollen.  Jacob told us that he had an operation last year because he was suffering from slipped disc, a degenerative disease of the spine. Sally has difficulty swallowing and digesting her food.  She cannot stand for too long and suffers from fainting spells and has difficulty breathing.  Sally is unemployed and does not think she would be able to hold down a full-time job because of her health problems.  Jacob does not want her to work as she is too ill. The family is now living on Jacob’s salary, which is approximately $600 per month (net salary).

On her doctor’s advice, Sally underwent an MRI scan that about S$300, which was subsequently deducted from Jacob’s salary.  For that particular month, Jacob’s take home pay was S$165.  Sally stopped going to the hospital because they could not afford the expensive medical tests and her medical bills.

Their son was recently enlisted into National Service and will be receiving approximately $400 per month. They have a 22-year old daughter who has been unemployed for six months.  Their daughter, when employed, would be assigned to a part-time job or contract work.  The lack of job security and the benefits that come with full time employment – no CPF, no paid sick leave and annual leave, no medical benefits, to name just a few.  As Sally put it to me, “How can our young Singaporeans with low qualifications, like my daughter, going to ever afford a HDB flat when the jobs out there for them are only part-time jobs and also on contract?  No CPF, how to buy a flat?”  And when the CDC sent her daughter for an interview with Certis Cisco, the HR officer told her daughter to “lose some weight and then come back to us.”

HDB had rejected Sally and Jacob’s appeals to be eligible for the HDB Public Rental Scheme and also, to make a direct purchase from HDB because both Sally and Jacob had $110,000 in their CPF and so they applied for a loan of $60,000 from HDB.   After several months, HDB finally replied only to approve a loan to them for the amount of $45,000 which by that time was insufficient for them to purchase a flat in the open market because of the recent price hike in COVs in recent years.

When they were newly married, Sally and Jacob bought a resale 3 room flat from a direct loan from HDB.  They sold the flat and made S$70,000 from the sale.  With their new family, both Sally and Jacob purchased a 4 room HDB flat.

In 2005, Sally lost her job at MOE.  MOE did not renew her contract.  At that time, her kids were still in secondary school.  Sally and Jacob met with their MP at Woodlands to write an appeal letter to HDB to approve their request to downgrade from a 4 room flat to a 3 room flat.  As they did not hear from their MP, they went to see him again only to be told that “he was not in Singapore”.  So, they went to HDB to request for the downgrade and as they received no reply from HDB, Sally and Jacob sold their 4 room flat.  They made $29,000 from the sale of their 4 room flat.

Subsequently, they made several appeals to HDB to purchase a 3 room flat. They were informed by HDB that they had to pay a levy of $40,000 before they could purchase a flat directly from HDB. They could not afford to pay the levy and ended up renting from the open market, which consequently exhausted their savings.

Eventually they were referred to EM Services and were given temporary housing.

On 14 May 2010, EM Services locked the main door to their rental flat.  A notice was pasted on the door and they were given a letter informing them that their tenancy was up.  Sally went to speak to EM Services to let them into their flat.  EM Services agreed but gave them 2 days after which they would have to move out of the flat.

When they were told by EM Services that they had to move out, Sally refused to budge and would stay in the house for fear that they would be locked out if they went out.  A maintenance man came by the flat and asked her when they were going to leave the flat.  Sally simply replied that they had no place and nowhere else to go and she won’t be leaving the flat.

Jacob and Sally went to see EM Services and asked to be allowed to stay on.  EM Services finally agreed only on the basis that they paid their outstanding rent of $1,891.41 (3 months rental, outstanding utilities and penalties) by 4 June and their lease will be extended until August 2010.  After which there will be no further extensions to their lease and they will have to leave the flat.  They were told “to move out and stay with your relatives.”

Subsequently EM Services sent them a letter informing them that their rent will be increased to $480.

Jacob and Sally felt it was also unfair of EM Services to charge them $50 for late payment when Jacob informed EM Services that his salary was only paid to him on the 12th day of each month.  This meant that they could only pay their rent to EM Services thereafter.  The rental payment date is from the 1st to the 9th of each month.  After which there will be a late payment charge of $50 (even if the payment was paid one day late).

Sally continues to tell us about the frustrations she is facing when she approaches the officers of HDB and CDC for assistance and guidance.  An officer at HDB had told Sally that both Sally and her daughter “should go out to work”.  Sally said, “These people don’t seem to care that we are sick and that my daughter has been trying to look for work for six months.  The HDB officer even asked me to borrow money from our Church!”.  We told him, “We go to Church for worship. Our problem we keep in prayers.”

There seems to be too much focus on leaving families to being self-reliant and the Government’s inflexible and stringent policies do not go far enough to address the problems and obstacles that families in similar predicament as Sally and Jacob are facing.  The Government does not take into consideration that these families require more time to get back on their feet again.

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The Online Citizen's interview with the couple: