Be fair to en bloc minorities

Developers should offer units, pay rental to owners who do not agree to en bloc sales

Letter from Paul Armstrong

It is evident from the articles and letters in Today regarding en bloc sales that this phenomenon has already become a serious bone of contention. I fear that unless some strong urgent action is taken, it will soon get out of hand.

A great many of the majority owners agree to sign the Collective Sales Agreement purely on the basis that they stand to receive a large sum of money — much more than some have ever dreamed of.

They have given little thought to what they can buy with that money, or what it will mean with regards to where they might have to move to.

All of a sudden, they will find themselves having to move to another district with which they are not familiar, perhaps far from their children’s schools and other facilities like markets, shops, MRT and access to public transport. But that will be their problem. They have agreed to the sale and must face the consequences.

But what about the minority owners who didn’t want to move?

Bearing in mind that Singapore’s population is rapidly ageing, there are many such owners who are now old, for whom such a move is going to create problems.

The reply from Ms Radha S Khoo of the Ministry of Law, to the letter from Ms Lucy Huang (”No time to dilly-dally”, May 4) makes it very clear that in effect, minority owners have absolutely no legal recourse.

While this may be in accordance with the law, it seems to be a very unfair law, and I wonder if sufficient consideration was given to the plight of the minority owners when this law was passed.

It has been suggested that developers provide for an exchange deal — a new unit in the redeveloped estate in exchange for the one being demolished.

This may sound like a fair deal, but as the en bloc sale comes about because the developer wants to build a great many more units than were there originally, the new units are almost certain to be smaller than the original ones.

Where one originally had a nice relatively unobstructed view, the new one will probably be cheek by jowl with its neighbours and the view gone.

My wife and I were subjected to an en bloc sale a few years ago, and were offered an exchange unit that would be the same size as the original one. We declined, but one of our neighbours accepted.

After the new development was completed, she invited us to view her new apartment. Yes, it was the same size, but not by any means the same shape.

Where the original had virtually no wasted space, the new one had many little nooks and crannies that were not usable, and the rooms were all much smaller.

And the neighbouring unit was so close that you could open the window and shake hands with the occupant.

I would like to make a suggestion. If developers would agree to offer exchange units to those who did not sign, it would probably be an acceptable solution.

However, since there would be no monetary benefit to the owners, the developers, who stand to make a lot of money out of the new development, particularly with the ever increasing prices of property, should be prepared to offer them alternative temporary accommodation or a rental allowance until the new units are ready.

Making this a part of the law may well be the answer to providing minority owners with a more equitable and legally binding solution.

Source: Today, 08 May 2007

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