Many units renting out bed spaces to workers; URA investigation on
APARTMENTS at People's Park Complex in Chinatown are being partitioned to create extra rooms holding bed spaces for foreign workers, and the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is on the case.
The signs of overcrowding are there.
The three lifts serving residents in the iconic green-and-orange building are jam-packed and frequently break down, and long-time residents there say the place has become noisier and dirtier.
They also fear that the partitioning within units and packing in of beds have created fire hazards.
Two URA officers were at the complex on Tuesday, and a URA spokesman said investigations
Private apartments are for residential use and long-term residential stay, so leasing them out on daily, weekly or monthly terms is generally not allowed, URA said.
Also, planning approval is needed for a single residential unit to be broken up into more units.
URA can take action against unauthorised use of residential space.
The Straits Times reported yesterday that the agency had quashed the plan of a master tenant in Leonie Hill's Grangeford condominium to run a student dormitory there.
URA said it is also investigating condo owners elsewhere who are reportedly renting out rooms as hotel rooms.
URA is not the only enforcement agency: The Singapore Civil Defence Force said it issued composition fines to nine units at People's Park Complex this year and 18 units last year for unauthorised conversions of apartments into workers' quarters, flouting fire-safety regulations.
Those that have been caught, however, could just be the tip of the iceberg.
When The Straits Times visited the complex, many of the estimated 288 apartments from the eighth to the 31st floors looked like they were occupied by more people than a typical family unit.
The cues: shoe racks with 15 to 30 pairs of shoes, laundry strung out on window grilles, on racks in the hallway and in staircase landings; kitchens that appeared to have been turned into bedrooms; and notices on doors reminding occupants to keep quiet or to shut the door.
One unlocked regular-size unit of 1,119 sq ft had at least seven rooms. In its original state, a unit that size would have only three bedrooms and a living room.
Tenants in the complex, observed to be mostly Chinese nationals, said they were renting bed spaces for between $180 and $300 a month.
Mr Li Guiquan, 28, a chef, said he has been paying $200 a month for his bed space for more than a year. His bed is one of six in a room with three double-decker beds. He reckoned 30 people occupied the seven or eight rooms in the unit.
He said nonchalantly in Mandarin: 'Perhaps it's just the way it is in Singapore.'
People's Park Complex residents said the conversion into workers' quarters became apparent two years ago.
Long-time resident Beverly Lee, 49, in a letter to this newspaper's Forum page published on Monday, said that, with the alert on for the Influenza A (H1N1) flu, contact tracing would be difficult in such overcrowded conditions.
The complex's management corporation seems to have its hands tied.
Complex manager Wilson Goh said the management corporation managed only the common areas and had no jurisdiction over the apartments.
'What we can do is only to persuade owners to take care of the issue,' he said.
Some residents are resigned.
One resident who has been living there for more than 10 years and who gave his name only as Benny, 58, said: 'There is no use complaining.'
Mr Jeff Teo, 33, who lives beside a unit which he estimates houses up to 20 foreign workers, quipped: 'Right now, you can call it People's Park Hostel.'
Source: Straits Times, 8 May 2009