Friday, June 5, 2009

Tenants torn between two 'landlords'

Firms dispute property; residents await deposit returns, move-out date

THE owner and master tenant of an illegally refurbished condominium are now tussling over who the rightful landlord is of the property, leaving 200 residents wondering when they have to move out and what will become of their security deposits.

At separate meetings with residents yesterday, both parties gave them different dates to move out of The Grangeford in Leonie Hill.

The master tenant, Ideal Accommodation, which had carried out the renovations and rented out the rooms, said they could move out by the end of this month, while property owner Cove Development has given them till June 14.

Tenants do not know who to believe, but noted that they have a legal contract with Ideal, and not with Cove.

They were asked to go after the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) discovered that Ideal had illegally partitioned apartments in the condo - sold en bloc in 2007 - to create 600 sub-units from 140 units.

URA told Ideal on April 29 to tear down the partitions by Wednesday, but most tenants were told only on Sunday, giving them three days to clear out.

On Wednesday, Cove Development, a unit of Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE), terminated Ideal's two-year lease and gained an extension from the URA till July 27 to remove the partitions.

But yesterday, in its first meeting with tenants in a week, Ideal said that its contracts with tenants still stand, and so does its lease agreement with Cove.

A representative, who identified himself as Mr Lee, said to the crowd: 'We don't care what Cove says.'

In response, Mr Steven Ngai, company secretary for OUE, told The Straits Times: 'If the tenants want to listen to Ideal and get cheated, don't blame Cove.'

One tenant, Australian Mr Ken Williamson said: 'Both parties clearly have a communication problem. Just address our main concern - how to get our money back.'

Ideal has told tenants, most of whom have about $1,800 deposited in security and agent fees, that the rent can be used to offset the deposits if they stayed till the end of the month. But tenants pay only $900 in rent per month, and many say they have already paid this month's.

Mr Williamson, a computer games designer, said: 'Just let us stay till the value of our deposits runs out.'

Some residents prefer Ideal's offer of end June to Cove's, which said residents can stay till the deadline of June 14, or it can arrange short-term accommodation with selected hotels.

They found it hard to believe that Cove did not know Ideal had installed the illegal partitions.

One asked at the meeting: 'You're the property owner, you have an office here, you approve Ideal's building plans, don't tell me you were not aware at all?'

Cove said that Ideal did not submit plans for renovation works despite repeated chasing, and that it found out only through the URA.

Residents questioned if Cove had the right to make them move out by June 14.

Asked about the dispute, one property lawyer, Mr Eben Ong, said: 'It depends on the terms of the contract. But most contracts would not allow illegal sub-letting. If so, Cove may have a case to terminate and take over.'

Source: Straits Times, 5 June 2009

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