24 allegedly housed in four-room HDB flat

Three double-decker beds crammed into a bedroom in a Housing Board flat, with clothing hanging haphazardly from the beds and ceiling and barely any space to move around.

These were the conditions that lodgers 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 that a total of 24 tenants were allegedly housed in the flat, four times the maximum allowed by the 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 said.

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 said the tenants were mainly introduced through work agents and the illegal subletting had been going on for about four years.

The tenant who spoke to the newspaper said there were so many other lodgers - who were on different schedules - that it affected his sleep and work. He said he has never seen the owner of the flat and saw another landlord only from time to time. All matters, including rent, were handled by a third person, who also lived in the flat.

All flat owners have to obtain the HDB's approval before renting out their flats or bedrooms. The HDB sets occupancy caps for flats that are 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 tenants allowed is a breach of the HDB lease agreement and flat owners can be fined or have their flats repossessed.

Main tenants who further sublet the flat can also be barred from renting an HDB flat for five years.

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong told Parliament in April 2017 that the HDB conducts checks and investigations on flats suspected of unauthorised subletting and/or overcrowding based on public feedback, in addition to its random checks.

In the three years prior to 2017, there were about 70 cases in which enforcement action was taken against such errant flat owners.

Kok Yufeng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 22, 2019, with the headline '24 allegedly housed in four-room HDB flat'. Print Edition | Subscribe