Court raises payout for man evicted from late granny's flat despite her promise of lifelong accommodation

SINGAPORE - A man said he gave up a full-time job and cared for his ailing grandmother after she promised that he could live in her flat for as long as he wanted, but was evicted by his cousin after her death.

Mr Andy Low Heng Leon, 34, sued his grandmother's estate, seeking $420,000 as compensation for the loss of his lifelong licence to live in the five-room HDB flat in Hougang.

He initially won $84,000, but appealed all the way to the highest court in the land, which increased his award to $140,000.

In a judgment released on Thursday (Aug 16), a two-judge Court of Appeal said the detriment suffered by Mr Low was more significant than the lower court had assessed it to be.

The court took into account the harm he suffered living in fear of contracting tuberculosis from his grandmother and the sacrifice of his social life while taking care of her.

The flat at the centre of the case, which was owned solely by Mr Low's grandmother, Madam Tan Ah Kng, was home for him and his immediate family for many years. The other family members later moved out.

Mr Low, who is now a law lecturer, said Madam Tan had promised that he was free to continue living there.

He said he gave up a career as a financial planner to work from home as a tutor to take care of Madam Tan from 2005 until her death in 2008.

As Madam Tan did not make a will, under intestacy laws, the flat was to go to her five surviving children.

Mr Low was evicted in July 2009 by his cousin, Mr Lawrence Low Kian Beng, who was appointed as administrator of the estate.

Mr Low filed a suit to claim compensation from the estate, and was awarded $84,000 by an assistant registrar.

He appealed to a High Court judge, who raised the sum to $100,000.

Represented by Mr Adrian Tan of August Law Corporation, Mr Low appealed further.

In assessing the appropriate quantum, the Court of Appeal first identified a figure that represented his loss and multiplied it by the period of the loss, to arrive at an amount that fulfils Mr Low's expectation.

Judges of Appeal Andrew Phang and Steven Chong then considered whether this sum should be reduced to ensure it was proportionate to the detriment suffered.

The court decided on a starting point of $1,500 a month, based on the rent he paid for three-room and four-room flats after he was evicted.

The court also decided on a multiplier of 10 years, considering his intention to live there until he was eligible to apply for public housing as a single at the age of 35.

After coming to a provisional figure of $180,000, the court considered the detriment he suffered, and reduced the sum to $140,000.

The court said there was "feeble" evidence produced on the expenses he said he had borne for his grandmother and a "complete lack of evidence" regarding the full-time jobs he had allegedly forgone.

"However... some value ought to be ascribed to the not insignificant non-financial detriment suffered by the appellant because he had to wrestle with the constant fear of contracting tuberculosis and had to sacrifice his social life while taking care of his tuberculosis-stricken grandmother," said the court.