One of them demands $2m, but court awards him $74k
A palatial bungalow sits at 20A Meng Suan Road, in stark contrast to Nos. 20 to 28 - old one-storey terrace houses, most of them with zinc roofs.
Over the past 10 years, families and workers have moved in and out of the nine terrace houses, which sit on land owned by Mr Ong Beng Chong, who lives in the bungalow.
In recent years, Mr Ong has been trying to get the occupants out so that he could redevelop the land.
The job looks simple enough, given that he is the landlord and calls the shots.
Except that the 21,066 sq ft piece of land in Mandai has a history that dates back to the 1950s, when people could own the land, and let others build houses on it in return for 'ground rent'.
In this case, that amounted to between $7 and $20 a month.
As of January 2008, the plot had an indicative price of around $250 to $260 per sq ft. Inclusive of the development charge, this would put its worth at about $5 million.
Mr Ong sent quit notices to tenants, with offers of compensation.
But he found several unwilling to budge.
Then the takeover battle started.
In March last year, he sued to evict the home owners of Nos. 21 and 23 after they refused his $40,000 compensation. He failed.
Justice Lai Siu Chiu ruled that Mr Ong's father had, in 1959, sold the two houses to Mr Yeo Ang Moo and Ms Victoria Jayaram's father, at a price for which they could have bought houses outright in other parts of Singapore.
Mr Ong's offer of $40,000 compensation then was 'derisory' and not a reasonable sum compared to the $5 million he stood to gain by auctioning off the land on which the row of houses stood.
Although Mr Ong lost the suit then, he appealed further and the case was subsequently settled through mediation.
He acquired the two units and the land they sat on.
He then moved on to acquire one more unit, settling the matter with the unit owner out of court.
Retiree Goh Kim Thong of No. 24, however, held out. He refused $225,000 and wanted between $1.8 million and $2 million instead. Mr Ong applied to evict him.
Mr Goh had bought the house for $10,000 in 1983 from the previous owner and lived there, paying a $7 monthly ground rent.
Based on the original 1959 agreement, Mr Goh argued in court he was entitled 'to squat on the land at $7 per month until the 999-year lease ran out in 2883', according to court documents.
Twice, the High Court warned Mr Goh that he might not end up getting the amount he wanted.
Twice, Mr Goh insisted on pressing his case, never mind that independent valuers had placed the value of the 51-year-old buildings at between $67,000 and $74,000 - far lower than what he had been offered.
Mr Goh, who represented himself, had taken what Justice Chan Seng Onn described as 'a gamble'.
Justice Chan said the law to repossess such land is clear. The original land owner could retake the land as long as the building owner was reasonably compensated.
He awarded him $74,000 for the house based on its present condition and ordered him to hand over the premises within four months.
Mr Goh, who does not live at No. 24, signalled that he would be fighting on with an appeal.
The house is now occupied by six workers from Malaysia who are renting the house for $180 each. Mr Pang Kah Peng, 48, a tiling worker who has been living there for six years, said: 'We've heard before that we are supposed to move out, but we still don't know when. No one has told us anything.'
It is now four units down for Mr Ong. Two others are occupied by Mr Ong's family and relatives.
That leaves just Nos. 22, 26 and 28.
No. 28 is owned by the Lim Clan Association. Member Lim Teck Huat, 78, a retiree, said the clan had been offered $225,000 for it, but may want to ask for more.
'We have been here for over 20 years and don't have an alternative location yet. The house is so big, surely we should be given more,' he said.
The caretaker of the clan's premises, Mr Soh Boon Ang, 71, has a different problem: 'I've been living here alone for 10 years. I'll have nowhere to go if we have to move out and I have to get an HDB flat.'
Source: Sunday Times, 11 Jul 2010