Better enforcement of court orders needed

HDB flats in Toa Payoh, on Feb 1, 2019.
HDB flats in Toa Payoh, on Feb 1, 2019.PHOTO: ST FILE

In recent years, the Association of Women for Action and Research (Aware) has advocated improving housing access for single-parent families via changes to Housing Board rules, such as by allowing unmarried mothers and their children to form a family nucleus to buy and rent from HDB.

In my work there, I have come across at least two cases of divorced mothers who had trouble securing alternative housing because their ex-husbands did not comply with court orders to sell the matrimonial flat.

Without first selling the matrimonial flat, neither party can buy or rent from HDB. Single parents who cannot access public housing either seek housing from the private market - which is costly and economically unsustainable - or live with their friends and family, often resulting in strained family relations.

One single mother we assisted has been trying to sell her matrimonial flat for close to two years. However, her ex-husband has failed to comply with multiple court orders to sell it, including one that states that he has to allow potential buyers to view the flat. He has occupied the flat since the finalisation of the divorce, changed the locks and refused to open the door for flat viewings. As a result, she cannot sell the flat despite engaging property agents to do so.

It was revealed in Parliament that the enforcement of such court orders is not tracked.

It is unfair to expect those like her to go back to court multiple times to enforce the order, as it is a time-consuming and emotionally draining process. What else can be done to ensure that individuals comply with court orders, and that these single parents have timely access to affordable housing?

Chong Ning Qian

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 30, 2019, with the headline 'Better enforcement of court orders needed'. Print Edition | Subscribe