High-rise living, heightened consideration

It surely is astonishing that the Housing Board should be compelled to turn to legislation to deal with recalcitrant residents who refuse it entry to carry out repairs of ceiling leaks. The problem involves some upper-floor residents who find all manner of excuses to obstruct the HDB, although both upper- and lower-floor flat owners are responsible for fixing leaky ceilings. This is an eminently sensible arrangement, and one whose equitable nature would be obvious if the obstinate residents were to suffer from ceiling leaks themselves.

Yet, many of them are callous towards their neighbours just one floor below, to an extent that would rank as almost unbelievable on the index of unsociability. Perhaps some of them disagree that they should be made to share the cost of repairing the ceilings of those below, forgetting that leaks tend to arise from above, and that the HDB offers a generous subsidy to assist flat dwellers in such cases.

As a result of such uncooperative attitudes, which can cause leaks to worsen, about 2,800, or a substantial third of ceiling-leak cases each year, take more than three months to resolve. Bemoaning the delay, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan is proposing an amendment to the law to enable the HDB to carry out work promptly. The move would be welcomed not only by affected residents but also by Singaporeans generally who believe that civilised high-rise living requires a heightened consideration of the twinned rights and responsibilities that are part and parcel of shared spaces. Certainly, privacy is an important element of such living, but it cannot be the paramount consideration when inter-floor disputes infringe the basic comfort of residents severely. That is when the HDB should intervene. Its effectiveness would be enhanced by the new law.

Seeking recourse to a new law is an opportune moment for introspection. Singapore's public housing programme covers the overwhelming majority of the population. Given its representative scale, it reflects the social lay of the land from its peaks to its plateaus and its troughs. Most HDB residents are responsible neighbours, for otherwise the public housing experiment would have been a social failure. However, there are also the uncaring and the downright unreasonable. Some make life unbearable for others, as did the Pasir Ris man who, for five years, banged on his walls and ceiling at all hours with what sounded like a solid object.

Greater control of what goes on within a flat would give the HDB the power to prevent a handful of residents from injuring the ambient comfort and security that are associated with public housing here.