Chip Bee residents unhappy with cap on lease periods

SLA rules mean long-time tenants may have to give up their homes

Long-time residents of trendy Chip Bee Gardens near Holland Village have expressed unhappiness with a government policy that gives others an equal chance of renting properties in the neighbourhood.

Some residents of Chip Bee, which has 349 terraced houses, 40 apartments and 20 retail shops, are upset at the prospect of having to give up their homes.

Under Singapore Land Authority (SLA) rules introduced in 2012, existing tenants of landed, state-owned residential properties - be they colonial-era "black and white" houses or terraced houses, as in Chip Bee's case - can no longer lease them indefinitely.

A resident who gave his name only as Mr Ari, 40, said the new rules are not conducive for fostering a close-knit neighbourhood.

"This neighbourhood is where my daughter was born. We have parties, trick-or-treating during Halloween and carolling during Christmas. It makes things so much more lively," said the marketing executive, who has lived there for nearly 10 years with his wife and daughter, seven.

"But now, it feels like we're being forced out," added the permanent resident from Indonesia.

Another resident, Mr Ricky Soh, 62, said it was not as if there are no properties available for rent in the estate.

"I hope that they rethink the policy because there are many units around that have been vacant for some time," said the civil servant, who has called Chip Bee home for 10 years. His lease will expire in September.

Residents said they found out about the new rules only when they approached the landlord to renew their contracts and were offered a final two-year term.

The two-year notice is given to those who are reaching the nine-year limit for the lease of state-owned properties.

When the two years are up, the properties will be put up for rent in a bidding exercise but only if there is interest from a third party. Otherwise, tenants can have another lease of up to nine years.

Asked to comment, SLA, which manages the properties in Chip Bee, said that previously, when there was no cap on lease periods, some people had occupied state properties for many consecutive tenancy terms.

It added that the new policy "allows for greater transparency and ensures that anyone who is interested in renting these properties has an equal opportunity".

But while these properties are generally let out via an open tender, there are also those needed by agencies for other uses and developments, SLA added.

Chip Bee residents now pay between $3,000 and $5,800 a month to rent the apartments and terraced houses. Strata commercial units are rented out for around $6,700 to $12,000 a month, said SLA. The current occupancy rate in the estate is 90 per cent, it added.

Some, like accountant Anthony Huang, 44, moved out in late 2013. He and two of his friends had rented a terraced house in Jalan Rumia for 10 years before that. The house is now vacant.

"We miss Chip Bee but we didn't want to go through the bidding exercise. There was no guarantee we could keep the place and it could have got really expensive."

Some residents also worry that rents will go up, not only because of the new rules but also because SLA has allowed a residential unit in Chip Bee to be used for commercial purposes for the first time.

Last month, global affairs magazine Monocle took over a former residential unit in the area and opened a shop, mini-cafe and office.

Retiree Raymond Kwong, 69, who has lived in Chip Bee for more than 15 years, said: "I am attached to this place and it is very tranquil, so I was surprised that the authorities allowed a business to operate out of a residential unit."

An SLA spokesman said: "The Monocle brand has the potential to turn Chip Bee Gardens into a creative, vibrant and trendy lifestyle precinct." She said SLA intends to test-bed this change of residential properties for commercial use and is monitoring its impact on the area.

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