“Surface imperfections”, HDB says of defects in new flats

hdbYesterday (8 Jun), the Straits Times published an article (‘Most flaws in flats are surface imperfections’) where HDB claimed that most of the complaints about its new flats don’t affect structural integrity and “can be rectified easily”.

In recent years, HDB has received complaints at the rate of 1 defect per new flat from owners.

The bulk of reported flaws are “surface imperfections” such as hairline cracks, scratches on timber floors and uneven tile joints.

“This is due mainly to the inherent features of natural materials or the nature of construction works that are dependent on manual labour,” a HDB spokesman said.

She stressed that these defects do not affect the structural integrity of the building and can be rectified easily.

Last month, 20% of new flat owners complained about cracks in their walls at a new BTO project in Punggol. In Bukit Panjang, owners complained about rough tiles.

But HDB assured the public that it maintains “stringent quality practices” through many checks. For example:

  • Building material list – Contractors must adhere to HDB’s list of recommended building materials and equipment suppliers.
  • Timber mock-ups – Wooden, life-size models of toilets, kitchens, air-con ledges and service yards must be erected on-site within 3 months of the contract being awarded. This allows design, maintenance and safety issues to be resolved before construction begins.
  • Sample units – Samples of actual units must be constructed for various flat types. This provides quality control before mass construction begins.
  • Regular audits – The HDB deploys a central audit team to perform checks at various stages. Its project directors also make regular checks.
  • Building inspection team – When a project approaches completion, HDB sends the team to check for defects, such as improperly laid tiles or uneven walls.

Koh Kin Huat, senior project manager with Chip Eng Seng Contractors, argued that wall cracks can occur when people move into buildings and there is a lot of vibration from renovation works. He also said some defects, like chipped tiles, are attributable to human error.

The directors of publicly listed Chip Eng Seng are grassroots leaders linked to Yio Chu Kang Citizens’ Consultative Committee and Nee Soon South Citizens’ Consultative Committee.

An interior designer pointed to foreign workers involved in the construction. “Some workers may not be well-trained or there could be no supervisor on site to supervise them,” he said.

The general manager of China Construction said, “Defects are subjective; what are OK to some are unacceptable to others.”

More new defects surface after contractors try to rectify existing ones

Under HDB rules, home owners have a one-year defect liability period after collecting their keys to get the defects rectified by the building contractor.

However, in some cases, instead of rectifying them, more defects are created by the contractors.

Last month, socio-political site The Online Citizen reported [Link] such a case in a Punggol Waterway Terraces BTO flat. The owner, Adrian Chong, shared his story. He collected his keys to his flat on 9 May 2015 and had planned to move in by August or September. But his plan looks likely to be dashed with so many problems with the unit.

For example, Mr Chong’s parquet flooring got worse after the contractors tried to rectify some defects. A defective pipe was left unchanged. New defects kept appearing each day as the contractors tried to resolve old problems.

“There are some defects which pictures won’t be able to tell much, like loosening of the rubber tracks for the sliding doors at the balcony and service yards.” said Mr Chong.

At Punggol Waterway Terraces, a 3-room flat ranges from $186,000 to $237,000 while a 5-room flat costs between $374,000 and $458,000.

“Considering the amount we paid for the flat, we did not expect to see such bad defects or bad workmanship. Water pressure of the tap, shower head and toilet flushing were also weak. Timber skirting around the house were also painted with white paint making it looked so cheapskate,” lamented Mr Chong on the quality of the furnishings.

The defects were submitted to the building service centre set up by the building contractor, and Mr Chong was given an appointment to have a joint inspection with the supervisor to highlight and go through the defects.

However, Mr Chong faced difficulties in getting the contractors to do a decent job without incurring new defects as they tried to rectify existing ones.

“As working personnel, we do not have the luxury of time to keep going down to the unit to rectify the defects and monitor them. They (the contractors) delayed our renovation plans as we cannot start our renovation without having them to rectify the existing defects first.”

He added that as a flat owner, the minimum expectations are to provide his family a unit that is free from defects and good enough to live in comfortably.

An owner of a 4-room BTO Tampines flat agreed, “It’s a new flat which we are paying a lot for. There should not be these problems.”

A netizen asked, “How to explain that older flats do not have so many problems?”

What do you think?

This article was first published on TR Emeritus.