Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Illegal dorms crowd out Tiong Bahru's charm

The Straits Times
June 2, 2009
By Jessica Cheam

SOME landlords in the heritage-rich Tiong Bahru estate are cashing in on the demand for cheap housing by converting conserved pre-war flats into dormitory-style housing for foreign workers.

Residents are becoming increasingly concerned about the impact on their estate and have complained of noise, littering and overcrowding.

A Straits Times check last week uncovered several units ranging from 800 to 1,300 sq ft in size housing as many as 24 tenants in each flat.

Resident Chris Kwek, 33, said he has no qualms about living near foreign workers, mainly from China and India, but the transient nature of their stay means they tend not to take care of the estate.

Rubbish is strewn on the streets, unsightly rows of clothes are hung outside the units and some tenants even dump unwanted bulky items in common areas.

A Chinese worker who wanted to be known only as Mr Wong, 28, said people like him sometimes do not have a choice of accommodation.

Many pay a lump-sum fee to an agent in China, who arranges for a flat, and they have to live there for six months to a year or lose their money.

The monthly rent is about $200 each.

Some simply cannot find cheaper housing in city-fringe locations and have to accept cramped conditions.

'We have to get used to it since we have no choice,' Mr Wong said in Mandarin.

His landlord is a 40-year-old Chinese citizen turned permanent resident, who rents flats and then sub-lets them to workers.

And he is just one among many in the estate, said residents.

Using private residential estates for dorm-style housing is illegal, yet many landlords have built sizeable businesses.

Mr Wong's landlord, for example, 'operates' four units, each about the size of a three- or four-room HDB flat and rented for about $2,000 a month.

With 24 tenants in one unit paying around $200 each, he makes almost $3,000 in profit from each flat each month.

Realtor Alvin Yeo, 37, who has lived in Tiong Bahru for several years, said the estate had always been attractive for migrant workers as it is central and affordable.

At the same time, the estate's charm and rich history has attracted increasing numbers of young professionals and expatriates, many keen to maintain the area's heritage appeal.

Resident Eugene Yip, 38, said locals who live there 'love this area for its style and history'.

Tiong Bahru was designed in the 1930s in Art Deco style, privatised in the 1960s and gazetted in 2003.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority told The Straits Times: 'Private residential properties are for residential use only and are generally not allowed to be converted to dormitories.'


Taoism said...

Funny thing. I went home for lunch yesterday and decided to pick up take out from the Curry Chicken Chop at the back of the estate. I already saw a MOM van parked outside with it's blinkers on. Looked like an inspection visit or raid to me.

SGalf said...

These kinda raids has been on going for the past few months.

Even the fire department are going around checking if such dorms are a fire hazard.

Despite the reports, I'm still getting many calls about people wanting to turn this place into dorms.

And some of the callers/agents are downright rude.

They talked like the landlords here are desperate and should be grateful to them for bringing tenants here to Tiong Bahru!

Some even made "blood boiling" comments like this is a workers' place and questioned if the landlord here are in the right frame of mind in wanting to rent it out to either the expats or the white collar crowd.

I see no point in arguing with them as they are too entrench in their own perception.

But it is really tiring fending off these enquiries with a smile....especially when you are having a super busy day or just having a bad day.

kelvin said...

Non-citizens who do this kind of renting and subletting - well, they should get their PR revoked for blatantly breaking the law! otherwise they will proceed to breaking other laws because they think that Singapore is a toothless tiger!

Anonymous said...

My thoughts exactly Kelvin. It's a joke how slack the law enforcement has been. No wonder these landlords are so arrogant!

I say we just jail them and have their PR revoked. If we canned for vandalism, we sure shouldn't be less lenient when it comes to this!

Anonymous said...

I just moved in...i counted each floor on my flat is occupied by these folks going by the #s of slippers outside the flat. What is frustrating is the way they hang their clothes out the back stairs on racks that nailed across the stair making it in assessible. Is this legal? I wonder if they are legal staying in the flat with so many of them. Can i report this to town council or police to take some action or these useless folks are just sitting on taxpayer $?

pls advice...