O$P$? But I don’t owe a thing!

Fundamental, Systemic Flaws in the HDB Resale Process

Letter from Ed Tan

I AM in a situation which is one I am sure, more than a handful of HDB flat buyers are in too, particularly in this economic downturn. This problem permeates almost every residential estate, with no effective solution in sight. Perhaps the solution is in the form of prevention, not cure.

Late last month, I collected the keys of my HDB resale three-room flat. The paperwork had proceeded smoothly and the seller appeared helpful and sincere. The flat was neat and nothing seemed amiss.

Last week, on my first visit as the owner of the now vacant flat, I discovered that eggs had been thrown across the front door and the loanshark?s “signature” calling card of “Owe $, pay $” and a phone number were scrawled on the lift landing nearest my flat. This “message” was repeated at two other lift landings later on in the night.

The previous owner, who presumably is the person being sought by the loanshark, has gone missing. His property agent says he has cancelled his mobile number.

I have made a police report. The investigating officer said that the seller is required by law to change his address within 28 days. But even if he does, that is scant comfort as he can – within this period – make use of the existing address on his identity card (now my address) to take more loans from other loan sharks.

Besides stepping up patrols etc, how can the Police ensure that the seller (whose IC number I have furnished to the Police) change his address? Will the authorities be able to track him down and bring him to task if he does not do so?

What happens if he keeps using my address for months and years, and defaults on his loans, while I have to put up with constant harassment from the loan sharks? He borrows, I suffer.

It sickens me to know that while I can confirm he hasn’?t changed the address whenever I get more harassment from new creditors, the inverse isn’?t true – lack of harassment only means he has not been borrowing yet and gives no guarantee of a change in his IC address. It is perpetual anxiety.

My elderly mother, with whom I plan to stay in this flat, is terrified and begs me to sell the flat. Scenarios of getting locked out of – or worse, locked in – my own home abound. What protection or relief can we law-abiding citizens get?

Will I be able to sell my flat back to the HDB? Even if I can, I will lose a tremendous amount of money that I cannot afford to “throw” away. I have been told that I have to sit this out. But how can anyone possibly be expected to? In the first place, why is there no measure to prevent such a situation?

May I suggest the HDB resale process now be slightly tweaked:

Between the first appointment date and the day of final completion, sellers are required to change their IC address (from the property to be sold to their new residential address, which need not/may not necessarily be owned by him/her), and to produce proof on the completion date. This is the last line of defence.

Solely relying on the 28-day law is akin to locking the stable door after the horse has bolted. The minor issue of having to produce proof of residence in the form of an utilities bill, etc, during updating of addresses can be resolved by substituting that with the letter for the first HDB appointment and a letter from the relevant homeowner acknowledging that the seller will now be living there (if the seller is not moving to a new property of his own, that is. If he is, he shows proof of purchase of his new home.)

For example, if the seller is moving back to his parents? home after selling his flat, he produces his HDB first appointment letter and a letter from his parent(s) proving his soon-to-be residence. He then produces his IC with the new address on the final completion day. This way, nobody can then have a fake address.

Buying a new home is supposed to be a joyous occasion. But my family and I feel nothing but distress and anxiety. Surely citizens cannot be expected to “tackle” this issue of putting up with loansharks on their own, with no end in sight?

We can never truly progress with fundamental and systemic flaws like this going unsolved.

I do sympathize with the person above, and I like his suggestion of sellers having to change their address before the 2nd appointment. Changing address itself is simple. All they need is to fill out this form and a letter will be sent to his new place of residence. With that letter, he can change his address at any police station.

However, that might not solve the problem. The flat owner might have changed his address, but he may not be the sole occupant. It’s quite hard to track and check if everyone in the household has changed their address too, before the handing over of keys. Worst still, if the house was previously tenanted out, and the tenants have not changed their addresses, it’ll be hard to track them down too.

There was a similar case of harassment by loan sharks either early this year or late last year. Like Mr Tan, he did not borrow any money. The loan sharks were such a pain in the butt that the neighbors got irritated with see their blocks vandalized and having their peace disrupted, that they ganged up and ambushed the runner, than handed him over to the police. Since then, there hasn’t been any incident.

In another case, the owner of the flat installed a security camera to catch the vandal in the act. That too seemed to help some.

Or perhaps, one could paste a copy of the police report outside the door, to alert the runners that the occupant no longer stays there, and that a police report has been made. Loan sharks are after all just after money owed to them. It does not make economical sense to spend paint, eggs and other relevant materials otherwise, if it doesn’t aid in the recovery of their money.

It’s hard to tell if the previous owner and occupants would borrow money from a loan shark after the sale of their flat. However, you can look out for signs if they are currently being harassed by loan sharks. if you are looking for a flat, take note of the exterior walls, and take a look at the staircase near the flat for signs of freshly painted walls. This often indicates that loan sharks have left messages on the walls, which have then been painted over to cover them up.

Ask your agent. If your agent knows something about the involvements of loan sharks, they have to let you know. Some agents work on a ‘you ask then I tell’ basis, so make sure you ask!

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