SINGAPORE (THE NEW PAPER) - Three double-decker bunk beds are crammed into a bedroom of the Housing Board (HDB) flat, with clothing hanging haphazardly from the beds and ceiling, and barely any space to move around.
These were the claustrophobic conditions that lodgers living in an overcrowded four-room flat at Block 403 Pandan Gardens allegedly had to endure.
Chinese-language newspaper Shin Min Daily News reported on Wednesday (March 20) that the flat allegedly housed a total of 24 tenants, four times the maximum allowed by HDB.
The flat's three bedrooms housed at least six lodgers each, with eight people living in one of them, and the living room was illegally partitioned into two rooms and rented to two couples, the newspaper reported.
A tenant told Shin Min that to avoid getting caught, the landlords imposed strict rules, barring the lodgers from answering the door, cooking in the flat, and hanging their clothes out to dry.
He said: "We have to always keep the windows tightly shut... At night we try not to turn on the lights."
Shin Min reported that the tenants were mainly introduced through work agents, and the illegal subletting had gone on for about four years.
The tenant, who was not named, said there were so many other lodgers, who were on different schedules, that it affected his sleep and his work.
He said he has never seen the owner of the flat, and only saw another landlord from time to time. All matters, including rent, were handled by a third person, who also lived in the flat.
The New Paper understands that HDB is aware of this case.
All flat owners have to obtain HDB's approval before renting out their flats or bedrooms.
The HDB also sets occupancy caps for flats being rented out - a maximum of six people for three-room and larger flats, and four people for smaller flats.
Failure to obtain prior approval or observe the maximum number of sub-tenants allowed is a breach of the HDB lease agreement and flat owners can be fined or have their flats repossessed.
Main sub-tenants who further sublet the flat can also be barred from renting a HDB flat for five years.
National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament in April 2017 that HDB conducts checks and investigations on flats suspected of unauthorised subletting and/or overcrowding based on public feedback, as well as its own random checks.
In the three years prior to 2017, there were about 70 cases where enforcement action was taken against such errant flat owners.