Illegal ads a sticking point for HDB residents

Town councils getting more complaints but courts unlikely to take action over 'trivialities'

Now that Singapore's "Sticker Lady" has been sentenced in court for mischief, some Housing Board residents are wondering if they will see the end of a sticky problem they have been living with for years.

They say locksmiths, real estate agents and providers of all sorts of services paste small advertisements and labels all over the place, and seem to get away with it.

Tampines resident Francis Cheng contacted The Sunday Times and said he has put up with ads and calling cards that have been stuck to his meter box, doorbell, gate and on the railings along the common corridor.

"It's a nuisance. I peel it off and a few days later they paste it back," said the 40-year-old business manager. Competing businessmen sometimes leave layers of overlapping stickers that are just unsightly, he added.

"Even when you remove it, hinting that you don't condone such action, they still put it back. Sometimes it makes me really fed up."

He contacted the newspaper after Samantha Lo Xin Hui, 26, was sentenced on Wednesday to 240 hours of community service and a three-month Day Reporting Order for mischief. Her offences included pasting stickers with Singlish slogans at traffic light junctions and spray-painting various roads.

Mr Cheng, who hoped that action might now be taken against the other "sticker people" in town, is not the only one who is bothered.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said it received 1,585 complaints about illegally pasted advertisements last year, up from 1,450 in 2011.

With 783 complaints between January and April this year, it looks like the total for 2013 might be double last year's figure.

The police website refers the public with such "non-police matters" to relevant agencies such as town councils and the LTA.

Town councils told The Sunday Times that the issue of illegal ads is manageable, with officers removing them during block cleaning and inspections.

Chua Chu Kang Town Council said it receives an average of two complaints a month, while Ang Mo Kio Town Council has received 10 e-mail complaints in the past year. The advertisers are also warned verbally.

A Holland-Bukit Panjang Town Council spokesman said the advertisers are advised to promote their services in other ways, including in the council newsletter.

Technically, the law has penalties for unauthorised advertisements, under the Vandalism Act and the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act.

But lawyers said the courts are unlikely to act against businesses that do not adhere to the rules unless home owners pursue the matters themselves by lodging a magistrate's complaint.

"Some might argue that it's a slippery slope: if you don't arrest them, they will paste more stickers," said criminal lawyer Amolat Singh. "But the courts operate under the de minimis principle, which means the law does not concern itself with trivialities."

He said the law must strike a balance between the fact that advertisements promote a commercial service - unlike in the Sticker Lady case - and that most people do not view them as mischief or vandalism.

Most of the locksmiths, plumbers and air-conditioning repairmen The Sunday Times called declined to talk about their ads but one argued that his sticker has helped many people.

The 40-year-old locksmith, who declined to be named, said: "Those who complain are those who haven't had their door spoilt or forgotten their keys."

But he admitted that for every call from a customer, he gets one complaint about his stickers. He claimed he has "toned down" his use of sticker ads.

Residents have suggested putting up free notice boards at void decks for small ads. "They can be cleared every few weeks or so," said taxi driver Salleh Ahmad, 57.

The LTA has put up 27 cheap advertising notice boards at 21 MRT stations since 2010 and used anti-stick paint at "hot spots" like bus interchanges and road junctions.

A spokesman said fewer illegal ads were observed at these areas. Such offenders can be fined $300 for the first offence or up to $2,000 if prosecuted.