A member of the public, Samantha Lim Li Min, wrote to ST Forum last Wed (13 Jan) urging the Housing Board (HDB) to do more to regulate the rental prices of coffee shops in HDB estates (‘Forum: High rent driving coffee shop stallholders away‘).

Ms Lim, who lives at Dawson area was dismayed when she found out that one of her favorite stallholders at a coffee shop was forced to leave the premises due to the high increase in rentals and had to relocate elsewhere cheaper. The new rental for the stallholder nearly doubled.

“My husband and I frequent the coffee shop at Dawson Skyville,” she said. “We have come to know some of the stallholders and, for us, it has become a community of sorts.”

“We were therefore dismayed to learn that due to the exorbitant increase in monthly rental (roughly doubled), one of the stallholders was forced to relocate,” Ms Lim added.

When she complained to the HDB, it replied that it can’t “interfere” with rentals of stalls at the coffee shop. Ms Lim said, “The HDB explained to us that it was unable to interfere with individual stallholders’ rentals charged by the eating house operator.”

“It also said it adopts a Price Quality Method tender for eating houses to consider, and if the eating house operator charges a high rental, it runs the risk of having many vacant stalls in the eating house,” she further added.

Ms Lim felt that the eating house operator is bullying the individual stallholders.

She said, “Many stallholders are already struggling to keep their businesses afloat, especially amid the Covid-19 pandemic. I can understand the reasons for slight increases in rental but doubling it would be difficult for many stallholders to stomach.”

“In the long run, I worry about not only the stallholders’ livelihood, but also the longevity of the small coffee shop culture… If this issue is not addressed, I foresee that soon only the large commercial chains will be able to afford the rentals.”

She also said that if high rentals are passed to stallholders, they will in turn be forced to increase the prices of their offerings to turn a profit, and these prices would undoubtedly be passed on to consumers.

In addition to the said stallholder who was forced to relocate to somewhere cheaper, two other stallholders have also moved out, she revealed.

“Rental prices, if largely left to the domain of private parties, can become unreasonable,” she wrote.

“It would truly be a shame if this significant part of our culture were eroded due to rising costs. Surely, more can be done to tame the invisible hand of market forces.”

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