Thursday, June 4, 2009

URA grants last-minute extension

Property owner ends landlord's lease and plans talks with tenants

SOME 200 tenants of an Orchard Road condominium who were to have moved out by yesterday have been given a last-minute reprieve.

But in a twist, their landlord, Ideal Accommodation, has been given the boot.

The situation arose after the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) discovered that Ideal had
illegally partitioned apartments - thus creating 600 sub-units from 140 units - at The Grangeford condominium.

This tactic allowed Ideal to collect more in rent. It could collect up to $8,000 by leasing one apartment to eight tenants, instead of about $4,600 by renting it out to one.

URA told Ideal in late April that the partitions had to be torn down by yesterday, but it did not let the tenants know. Most were told only on Sunday, giving them a scant three days to clear out.

Yesterday, the official owner of the condo, Cove Development, a unit of Overseas Union Enterprise (OUE), took action.

It terminated Ideal's two-year lease after just five months, and gained a deadline extension from the URA.

Cove now has till July 27 to tear down the partitions and restore the apartments.

The tenants, mostly expatriate professionals and students from places like the United States, Hong Kong and Indonesia, will have to move out earlier than that, although the date is uncertain, said Mr Steven Ngai, OUE's company secretary.

He said there were several options before the tenants, and that Cove would meet them soon to discuss these.

In a statement yesterday, OUE said it decided to terminate Ideal's lease because the company sub-let illegally partitioned rooms and did not comply with URA's enforcement notice.

URA, meanwhile, said it acted because of the unauthorised use of the Grangeford. It said it did so in response to public complaints.

It revealed that Ideal had already been given one chance to comply with its enforcement order: The company was first told to tear down the partitions on April29, and was given a month to do so.

Ideal then appealed, and was given a few days more, till June 3, to comply. However, it failed to do so and made another appeal for more time, which URA rejected.

Yesterday, residents - some of whom said they were prepared to stay put even if told to go yesterday - were visibly relieved.

Operations manager Lam Nguyen Van Ann, a Vietnamese who shares a room with her husband, said: 'I'm really happy about the new deadline. Just a few days ago, I didn't even know where I was going to stay.'

The residents added, however, that though the immediate crisis had passed, Ideal has many more questions to answer.

They said substantial amounts of money - agents' fees, deposits and rent that was paid upfront - are still with the company, and they want to get these back.

Said Mrs Lam, who has been in Singapore for three years: 'What about compensation from Ideal, all our deposits and agent fees?'

Added the 32-year-old: 'Are they going to take all our money and run away?'

When The Straits Times visited the condo, an Ideal representative was seen discussing matters with residents.

However, she refused to comment when approached, and instead physically attacked a photographer from this newspaper.

Another tenant, Singaporean Kevin Chia, 27, wanted to know if the new landlord had answers.
No, said Cove Development.

Explained OUE's Mr Ngai: 'Their tenancy contracts are with Ideal, not us. Besides, we're victims ourselves.

'Ideal still owes us about two months' rent, which we cannot get back despite repeated chasing. We're considering our options too.'

He added that Cove also cannot help tenants who moved out abruptly and gave up their deposits when Ideal issued eviction notices.

However, the company said it will move to meet tenants quickly.

Said Mr Ngai: 'They could stay at Grangeford, or we could give them some new accommodation options.'

Source: Straits Times, 4 June 2009

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