Let down by the system: A woman shares the story of her arduous battle with the courts to regain what was unlawfully taken from her

Left: Ms Lim's store front. Right: Part of the remaining stock as observed by the security company (Images from Ms Lim)

Lim Kai Xin, who used to run a store in a HDB shop, has been fighting for over 10 years to right a wrong that was done to her.

Back in 2007, Ms Lim’s shop neighbour told her that a few individuals had apparently broken into her store at Blk 283 in Bukit Batok and stole all the items inside.

As it turned out, the person responsible was Ms Lim’s landlord and a few of their accomplices. Following a drawn-out dispute between the two parties, Ms Lim’s landlord had broken into the store and seized all her stock-in-trade valued at $555,762.57 at the time.

Ms Lim attempted to reason with the landlord to get her goods back but was unsuccessful. In one recorded telephone conversation, the landlord said to Ms Lim, “you do not need to be concerned where the stocks are, I hide them somewhere, that’s it!

At the same time, Ms Lim filed a police report in hopes of recovering the stolen goods but the police, after conducting an investigation under Section 120 of the Criminal Procedure Code, had unfortunately decided not to take any further action. In a letter to her, the police said “after careful consideration of the facts and circumstances of the case and in consultation with the Attorney-General’s Chambers, the Police have decided not to take further action”. They did not reveal the reason for this decision despite being asked multiple times by Ms Lim.

This left Ms Lim with no way to recover the stolen goods. With her options narrowing, Ms Lim decided to take the case to the civil court instead to seek damages from her landlord.

A small disagreement leads to several Magistrate Complaints

Before going further, let’s look at the dispute that led to this confrontation in the first place. At around the end of 2006, Ms Lim had leased a HDB shop from the landlord to start her retail business selling ladies’ and children’s clothes and accessories.

Not long into the tenancy, a dispute arose between Ms Lim and her landlord about several issues including misrepresentation of floor area and constant water damage. In March 2007, Ms Lim eventually lodged a police report against her landlords over those issues. The police in turn advised her to lodge a Magistrate’s Complaint, which she did.

Shortly after, the police got in touch with Ms Lim saying they had received instructions from the Court to investigate her Magistrate Complaint. Of course, the involvement of authorities led to the quick deterioration of the relationship between landlord and tenant.

In one of the several telephone conversation that Ms Lim had recorded, on 19 April 2007, the landlords’ daughter told Ms Lim a policeman came to their house a week earlier to follow up with the Magistrate’s Complaint that Ms Lim had lodged against the landlord. The woman asked Ms Lim “Do you really want to use the police as a method to deal with their problem?”

Ms. Lim replied that she had already given the landlords several months to deal with the problem but nothing has been done and told her that she would engaged a lawyer to handle the matter since the Court and the police had been involved. The landlord’s daughter replied that she would check it out with the Court.

Unexpectedly, Ms Lim was then asked by her landlord to vacate the shop lot a week later. However, she refused to do so until the investigations into the complaint were concluded. The next day, Ms Lim lodged a second Magistrate’s Complaint. The Court assured Ms Lim that her landlord would not be able to force her out without first obtaining an order from the Court.

Shockingly and without the legal right to do so, Ms Lim’s landlord still went ahead to seize all her stock and change the locks to the store to keep her out. Everything she had from her entire inventory to documents, cash register, and cash taken without her consent.

A misrepresentation in the media leads to lack of police effort

So after making the police report, which led nowhere, Ms Lim sought legal advice instead. After several rounds of negotiations between solicitors of both parties over the course of two years, Ms Lim was still unable to recover her goods. She said they were holding it as ransom, demanding for a full and final settlement from her.

Ms Lim spoke to reporters as she lodged further police reports in hopes that the police take action once the issue gained some attention in the publicly.

Ms Lim said she had emphasised in the police report:

“In April 2013, I went to the shop to make a check and spotted my rack, mannequin and packaging items at the landlord’s store which is located at the back of the shop. I also found out they were still using my air-con, air curtain, lighting and false ceiling. The rest of shop cannot be seen as blocked by poster. As such today I spoke to a reporter and then decided decided to call for Police. Police were at scene and saw all the items. I further state that all the stated items were taken from my shop without my permission by my landlord and his wife. The landlord’s wife still using my items. I hope Police will take action against the stolen goods. As to prove my claim I have photograph taken in 2007 and 2013 and had shown to the police officers while they were attending to me earlier.”

Regrettably, when the news was published on the papers, her plea was twisted to say that the matter did not require further assistance from the police.

Ms Lim told TOC that she would like to clarify that the above statement is untrue. She said:

On contrary, it was precisely because of the police‘s refusal to take action, therefore I had no alternative but to seek help from the public, hoping the public would help to make the police accountable for their lack of action, which had landed me in current state. If the Police had help to recover the stolen goods when the 1st Police report was lodged, I do not need to suffer the injustice for a wholly ten yrs! As reiterate, before the incident, the police told me to wait for them to investigate into matter; the Court had also assured me that my landlord would not be able to force me out without first obtaining an order from the Court. I was indulged into believing that I was protected under the law!

On the other hand, the interference of the Police and the Court, not only did not deter the accomplices from committing the unlawful act, it motivated them to plan meticulously and at the same time, act ahead of the authorities. They had even fabricated evidences to deceive authorities that the re-entry was legal, and was carry out in the presences of an independent third parties. It was later proven that the engagement of the third parties was to cover up traces of a prior break-in and or removal of goods before the creation of the inventories report. If the authorities failed to right a wrong that was done to me, how are they going to convince the public in future? The fact had spoken for itself “听你的,死路一条!!!

Three months after the seizure, the police finally investigated the case under Section 120 of the Criminal Procedure Code. Despite the landlord failing to obtain a Court Order before seizing Ms Lim’s goods, no action was taken against them.

Ms Lim exasperatedly asks, “what was the purpose of having the Act in the first place if breaching it does not bear any consequences? The Act was to protect us or mislead us?”

The long legal battle begins

Eventually in 2014, Ms Lim’s civil suit commenced. But the process was long and arduous, involving default judgements, counter-claims, and hearings. In the end though, it seemed Ms Lim finally caught a break.

The trial judge who heard the case found that the landlord’s seizure of Ms Lim’s goods was ‘un-lawful’.

In the grounds of decision, the judge said,

“My determination that the re- entry was wrongful was in turn based on my finding that no rent was due from the Plaintiff by the Defendants under section 18 of the Conveyancing and Law of Property Act. This by itself would have rendered the re-entry unlawful. Following the unlawful re-entry on 28 April 2007, the Defendants took possession and custody of the Plaintiff’s goods and chattels that were in the pemises and retained them until the date of the trial.”

It continued, “I noted further that the Defendants did not apply for an order for leave to issue a Writ of Distress against the Plaintiff under the Distress Act. By failing to obtain an order for leave to issue a Writ of Distress under the Distress Act, the taking and retaining of the Plaintiff’s goods and chattels that were in the premises would have been unlawful. I further found on the facts that the Defendants did not return the goods and chattels, despite numerous demands made for their return.”

Not only was Ms Lim not in arrears of rents, but she had in fact paid enough to cover her rent until the end of June.

In fact, the landlords had a surplus of $6600 inclusive of deposit which was not returned to Ms Lim to date. Ms Lim explained that the landlords kept making use of her eagerness to rectify the water leakage from walls into her shop premises to coerce her into paying advance rents, saying that they needed money to engage contractors to carry out the work.

Yet, it turned out that the contractors they engaged was the landlords’ son. In his AEIC and during cross examination, the landlord’s son said “HDB and town Council kept pushing the blame to each other without rectifying the problem” which is why he had to carry out the repair himself as it was easy for him as he work in a water proofing company. Given the son’s own admission, doesn’t it contrary reflected the landlords ’ulterior motive in using the defects to create the dispute?

Basically, Ms Lim was not in the wrong and her landlords had unlawfully taken her goods and they refused to return it despite Ms Lim’s repeated requests. During the trial, the landlord told the Court that the police had told her to return Ms Lim’s goods about a month after she had taken it. Even then, the landlord refused.

On top of that, the landlords refused to make an appearance in court when a Writ of Summons was served on them. Later when the matter was on assessment of damages, the landlord’s provided sworn affidavits that Ms Lim says were ‘packed with lies from the start’. Fortunately, those affidavits were set aside.

The bold landlords even attempted to plead with the Court to get Ms Lim to pay them a counterclaim for the cost of storing her goods over the period of 10 years. Ms Lim says, “Isn’t that extortion brought to the next level?”

All that’s left of Ms Lim’s stock which was kept by her former landlord for over 10 years ago. (Image from Ms Lim)

On top of all that, the landlords also tried to cover up the quantity and value of the stock-in-trade they had seized from Ms Lim’s shop. The landlord did not plead a bare denial of the stock-in-trade claimed or disclaim knowledge of the stock-in-trade but took a positive step in pleading that “the only items belonging to the[Appellant] which were removed from the [HDB Shop] are as listed in the Inventory Lists provided by the 3rd parties on 28 April 2007”.

In 2016, the Court for parties to take inventory again. This time however, the bulk of the new and unpacked clothing that was recorded in the first report was now missing. Ms Lim argues that the landlord had swapped out the items that were on display in the store which made up the figures declared in the first report.

All that’s left of Ms Lim’s stock which was kept by her former landlord for over 10 years ago. (Image from Ms Lim)

The landlord’s solicitors later attempted to explain that the list of items in the first report in 2007 was merely what the landlord was willing to concede was in the HDB shop back then. Basically, they admitted to willingly leaving out certain items from the inventory list.

This speaks volumes to the extent that Ms Lim’s landlords had taken to cover up the true quantity and value of the goods that they had unlawfully seized.

Ms Lim said to TOC, “Is there any case in history whereby any person could act with such arrogant and the authorities still stay indifferent??”

On top of the goods that they had taken from the shop, Ms Lim is also seeking damages for the close to S$38,000 she had spent in renovating the shop.

In several affidavits, the landlord’s son had sworn that the fixtures such as the air conditioner and air curtain were left behind by the earlier tenant previous to Ms Lim and the false ceiling was originally in the shop already.”

However he recanted that statement and conceded that the above statement in his affidavit was false when Ms Lim was able to produce invoices from her electrician proving that she had in fact paid for those renovation works. The landlord’s son then said, his position was “for all items that Ms Lim was unable to provide receipt, he will dispute, he was only prepared to admit if Ms Lim was able to provide receipt!”

So basically, they have no qualms about lying under oath as long as it supports their position and serves their purpose.

10 years on and still unable to get compensation

Unfortunately, Ms Lim was unable to prove the value of her goods as the documentary evidence were stolen by her former landlords when they emptied out the store and they’ve not returned it to her. As such, the court was only able to award her a sum that was well below the value of her goods and the legal fees that were racked up over the course of 10+ years as she tried to fight for justice.

On top of that, the Attorney General’s Chambers and the police still refused to charge the landlords with any offence, such as theft, lying to the police and etc, despite them admitting to their unlawful actions under oath in Court during the trial.

At this point, Ms Lim had gone through State and High Court as well as the Court of Appeals. Her case is water tight. She is not at fault and her landlords’ actions were unlawful. And yet, she remains the victim. A budding local entrepreneur turn pauper, Ms Lim has become a victim of unscrupulous individuals and shoddy police work.

Ms Lim is adamant that a strong message should be conveyed to the public that such behaviour is not condoned. She feels that her landlords should be made an example of in order to deter such despicable behaviour by other unscrupulous individuals.

Note: The section on the Court’s order on inventory taking was edited for clarity.

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