Lina Chiam

The proposed amendments to the Housing and Development Act introduce a new range of sweeping powers for the HDB. While acknowledging that the need for such measures may be necessary, especially in the case of unwilling homeowners, NCMP Lina Chiam called for greater safeguards, clarifications and checks on the authorities in her speech in Parliament yesterday. One such safeguard she mooted would be for Officers to wear body recording devices when entering houses without owner’s consent. You can read her speech in full is reproduced below.

Madam Speaker ,

This amendments in this bill affects 87% of our citizens who live in HDB flats in Singapore.

I welcome HDBs stance to take a more proactive approach to compel errant and stubborn residents fix  the negative externalities of  water seepage from ceilings , over-hoarding of goods and erecting permanent features that may cause structural damage to the building.

I support the stricter penalties for flat-owners who use non-HDB approved contractors  which the amendments in the bill proposes and  would also suggest that there should  be stricter vetting of approved contractors for HDB flat dwellers.

Madam Speaker, it concerns me that the amendments to this bill may present many ambiguous areas in the law leading to potential abuse.

Under Clause 3, section 26A , authorized officers or persons may enter any premises  at any reasonable time by giving a 24 hours notice to investigate or carry out urgent repairs of works.

A 24 hour notice period is too short. It is insufficient in cases where the owner of the  flat may be away, or  hospitalized or  living overseas.

More effort should be made to contact him or her.

The notice should include text messages, phones calls as well as written notices to their place of residence .

Would the minister give us a reason why such a  short  24 hour notice period and not a longer period of 1 week?

The bill should allow flexible time for HDB officers to investigate and carry out  urgent repairs or works after office hours and even on weekends until 10pm.

Under Section  26B of the bill, HDB is  given sweeping powers when it confers one or more authorized officers and authorized persons to enter a premise with force if necessary to investigate and  carry out urgent repairs of works to prevent or remove the danger if there is reasonable grounds to believe there is imminent threats to  public safety or public health.

Under this bill HDB need not compensate the flat owners for any mistakes or intrusion as long as it had acted in good faith and in accordance with its rules

Considering the costs which may be prohibitive for flat owners or occupiers who may have to rectify the forced entry into their premises and also the huge hurdles to take HDB to court  for any wrong doing ( perceived or real) Will there be sufficient safeguards for flat-owners.

Will HDB be held accountable , should the emergency not exist or not caused by a problem in the flat which forced entry has been obtained.

For this I would like to seek the minister’s clarification on what constitutes  reasonable grounds to believe that there is an imminent danger in a  premise which affects public safety or public health which warrants urgent repairs and

a)  The definition of urgent repairs

b)  The list of specific examples  which warrant urgent ‘repairs’ , public safety    

and public health.

The HDB employs many estate managers in branch office who are arts, science and business graduates who may hold dual roles as customer service managers and technical officers  and  may not have the expertise to inspect the damages .

The  HDB officer who is assessing the damage to the neighbor should ideally be trained building science graduate to access if it warrants urgent repairs.

I would recommend to make it a statutory requirement for all HDB officers to wear a recording device before entering the premises , much like police officers who wear it nowadays for the prevention of disputes.

With the proposed amendments to the bill under section 56A and 56B  authorized HDB officers are given police like powers to enter HDB flats which it suspects are flouting its rules.

They have the power to make audio and video recordings, interrogate suspects and seize evidence.

HDB officers are not police officers in the sense where they do not receive the necessary training.

Is this not a clear case of conflict of interest whereby the HDB are both investigator  and judge as to whether the owner has breached its rules. It should be the police to carry out such investigations.

Despite the current problems with non- cooperative flat owners and breaches of HDB rules, the proposed amendments give too much power to the HDB with insufficient safeguards

How many residents will be aware of their rights and legal representation of HDB’s new sweeping powers.

Thank you.

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