Halt in construction works leaves home owners in a bind

Madam Susie Koh and her son Joshua Tan in their half-renovated four-room BTO flat in Sengkang. Home renovation works have been halted due to the circuit breaker measures.
Madam Susie Koh and her son Joshua Tan in their half-renovated four-room BTO flat in Sengkang. Home renovation works have been halted due to the circuit breaker measures. ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

When Madam Susie Koh moves into her new four-room Build-To-Order (BTO) flat in Sengkang on May 8, it will be without a kitchen and bedroom wardrobes.

The halt in construction works due to circuit breaker measures, which will remain in force until May 4, meant that Madam Koh's contractor was unable to complete her home renovation before she has to hand over the keys of her current flat to the new owners.

"Even if there's nothing in this new flat and I don't have a kitchen, I don't mind it. If not, I will have to pay rent and the instalment for my new flat; I cannot afford that," said the 57-year-old retail assistant.

The divorcee will be moving in with her 25-year-old son Joshua Tan, a customer service executive.

If she decides to apply for a Temporary Extension of Stay to buy herself more time to move out of her current flat beyond the agreed May 8 resale completion date, she will have to pay monthly rent of $2,000 to the new owners.

So Madam Koh will move into her new place with mattresses for herself and her son, and clothes still in their storage boxes.

The floor tiles and toilets in the BTO flat are done.

Following circuit breaker measures that kicked in on Tuesday last week, all construction activities, including home renovation, were temporarily suspended till May 4.

Only works classified as necessary for essential services, critical public infrastructure, national security, public safety, emergency repairs and services are allowed to continue.

When the measures were first announced, around 300 home owners and contractors appealed to the Housing Board for an extension to continue works in their homes.

HDB told The Straits Times that it had assessed each request on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration whether works to make the flat liveable could be completed by April 9, two days after the suspension was in place.

  • 300 About 300 home owners and contractors appealed to HDB for an extension to continue works in their homes.

Such works include toilet upgrading and electrical works.

ST understands that due to the strict criteria, only a small number of appeals were granted the short extension.

For those with extensive ongoing renovations that cannot be completed in time, HDB had advised flat owners to delay renovation works until the measures are lifted.

By April 9, all works had ceased.

Madam Koh's appeal to HDB for an extension was not successful.

Although a number of HDB relief schemes were announced, including deferring payment of loan instalments for six months, Madam Koh did not apply for them.

Electrical and plumbing works are completed but her flat is mostly empty, with construction tools still sitting in her living room.

If the measures are lifted on May 4, Madam Koh's priority is to get a water heater and air-conditioning units installed before she moves in.

Other home owners, with no alternative accommodation, have had no choice but to move into their half-renovated homes.

Housewife Nuraidah Jaafar, 37, and her husband Farid Amron, 35, who works as a cleaner, are making do without a kitchen in their two-room flat in Ang Mo Kio.

The couple, who have a 10-month-old baby, moved in this month as they had to hand over the keys of their previous flat to the buyers.

While work on their bedroom and toilet has been completed, the kitchen is lacking a stove, sink and service yard area.

Ms Nuraidah bought a small gas stove to prepare food for her baby, although she has to wash the dishes in the toilet sink.

"I won't be able to take it if I have to go out to buy food every day. For us adults, it's okay, but I need to cook for my baby.

"We do light cooking, so that we don't have to wash heavy utensils because it will be very inconvenient," she said.

For some, the sudden halt in renovation work has also caused a ripple effect.

Mr Khairomi Senin, 48, recently bought a four-room flat in Hougang, but his family is unable to move in as the previous owners have not moved out, because their new place is also experiencing renovation delays.

Mr Khairomi's family of four are currently living in a four-room rental flat in Ang Mo Kio, paying $2,000 a month. "We're not lavish spenders but this extra burden of having to pay rent, when we actually own a flat, is quite difficult," said the freelance safety officer, whose pay was cut by 30 per cent due to the Covid-19 crisis.

They were supposed to move in in the middle of last month but he gave the previous owners a one-month extension at their request.

He said: "I let them extend because they are also stuck in a difficult situation, so it's not right for me to ask them to move out.

"But if this drags on and they ask for another month's extension, I don't really know what I'm going to do."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 17, 2020, with the headline Halt in construction works leaves home owners in a bind. Subscribe