IN A clear warning to those who sublet their flats illegally, the Housing Board (HDB) has moved to take back three apartments linked to a real estate agent who owns five private properties.
One flat to be repossessed belongs to the real estate agent, Mr Poh Boon Kay, 61, and his wife, Madam Khoo Kim Cheng, 52, who had illegally sublet their four-room flat in Bukit Batok.
The other two flats in Telok Blangah and Bukit Batok are owned by the couple’s daughter and Madam Khoo’s 91-year-old aunt respectively. Both flats were also illegally rented out.
He acted as agent for the elderly woman and collected rent on her behalf.
The HDB said it is taking legal action to take back the units.
It is the most serious case of illegal subletting in the last two years. Only three other flats have been compulsorily acquired in that time.
In November last year, the HDB checked and found that Mr Poh had sublet his flat to three Myanmar couples without HDB approval.
The Pohs, who were not living there at that time, had also breached the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) of three years. This rule states that buyers who purchase resale flats without a housing grant from the Central Provident Fund Board have to live in the flat for three years before they can rent out the whole unit.
The HDB then told Mr Poh this was unauthorised, and that they were intending to repossess his flat. On Dec 23, the HDB pasted a notice of intention to compulsorily acquire his flat.
The HDB told The Straits Times yesterday that Mr Poh will continue to hold the title deeds until investigations are complete. It will then decide whether to take back the title deeds officially and compensate him to the amount of $125,000.
Mr Poh, who claims he paid $155,000 for the house, can lodge an appeal against the notice. When asked, he said he was intending to appeal.
Mr Poh, an ordinary member of the Institute of Estate Agents (IEA), pleaded ignorance of the three-year MOP; he said he had been told by the HDB’s counter staff that he could sublet the flat after a year. He could not name the HDB employee.
But the HDB said that because of Mr Poh’s links to the other illegal subletting cases, his claims of ignorance could not be substantiated.
‘There is clear evidence that Mr Poh, a housing agent by profession, has been intentionally abusing HDB flats for monetary gains,’ said the HDB spokesman.
Mr Poh said he had not seen the acquisition coming. He added: ‘I can’t believe a notice can be served within a month of the HDB giving a warning letter.’
He said it was more usual for the HDB to send a second warning, or even fine an errant owner first.
The Housing and Development Act says, however, that the HDB can compulsorily acquire a flat once it ascertains that the owner is illegally subletting it.
‘HDB takes a stern view of unauthorised subletting, and will not hesitate to take strong action against those who flout the rules,’ it said.
The Board added that it will bring Mr Poh’s case to the attention of the IEA.
Mr Poh, who claims his daughter is stuck in the United States with marital problems, declined to discuss the cases involving her and his wife’s aunt.
He said he did not know for sure when they bought their flats.
The HDB has taken action against 56 such owners in the last two years, dishing out punishments ranging from fines of $1,000 to $21,000, to repossessing the flats involved.
HDB added that there was no discernible upward trend.
Flat owners who wish to rent out their flats must obtain approval from the Board and fulfil the MOP. The current MOP for subletting flats is five years for flats bought directly from the HDB or resale flats purchased with a CPF Housing Grant, and three years for resale flats bought without the CPF grant.
About 682,000 flats are eligible for subletting, but only 3per cent of these flats are sublet.
Source: Straits Times, 13 Mar 2010