Misuse of condo residents' addresses sparks concern

Residents of The Floravale affected in the case have raised concerns over being taxed for rental income despite not having rented out their units and fear they could be on the hook if their purported tenants get into trouble with the law. LIANHE ZAOB
Residents of The Floravale affected in the case have raised concerns over being taxed for rental income despite not having rented out their units and fear they could be on the hook if their purported tenants get into trouble with the law. LIANHE ZAOBAO FILE PHOTO

MOM acts after foreign workers found listed as tenants without residents' knowledge

Residents of a Jurong West condominium have found foreign workers registered under their addresses without their knowledge and are looking for answers.

Those affected have raised concerns over being taxed for rental income despite not having rented out their units and fear they could be on the hook if their purported tenants get into trouble with the law.

"I was shocked and confused," said Mr Ruzaidie Dar Surnik, one of The Floravale's affected residents. "What if the person took a loan and couldn't pay it off? The police or loan sharks might come knocking on my door."

After being tipped off by a neighbour, the 41-year-old senior executive in the education industry logged in to the Ministry of Manpower's (MOM) Foreign Worker Tenant Enquiry Service last month and found that five strangers were registered as tenants in his apartment. Mr Ruzaidie, who has never rented out his unit, made a Facebook post warning others about his discovery.

Another resident, logistics officer Betty Koh, 45, discovered that a person had been registered under her address since March this year.

Madam Koh, who has also never rented out her home, said she knows of at least 10 other affected households in The Floravale, which has about 700 units. "How can people even use our addresses this way? Even when you make bank transactions, you will get a message asking for confirmation," she said.

In response to queries sent last week by The Straits Times, the MOM yesterday said the Foreign Worker Tenant Enquiry Service has not yet been fully rolled out.

A spokesman said it will implement SMS or e-mail alerts by the end of this year to notify home owners when a work pass holder has been registered as residing at their properties. He added that since the system was soft-launched last December, 489 home owners have managed to check and report cases of misused addresses, compared with fewer than 30 every year previously.

The employers and workers involved in these cases have been, or are still being, investigated. The MOM has also contacted home owners to rectify residential records and block addresses from further misuse.

In the past three years, more than 2,000 employers and 1,000 foreign workers have been taken to task for providing false addresses or, in the cases of some employers, for failing to update the addresses of foreign workers in their employ.

But an affected resident from The Floravale feels that blocking addresses is of limited use for now.

Mr Han Jong Kwang, 54, a marine consultant who found two names listed under his address, said: "That doesn't solve the problem. If they can't use my address, they will simply use my neighbour's address."

In its statement yesterday, the MOM said it conducts regular inspections to ensure that private residential addresses declared by employers are accurate.

In a minority of cases, employers made genuine administrative errors, the ministry said.

In other cases, employers deliberately entered false addresses to circumvent regulatory requirements. "This was likely due to them housing their workers in overcrowded units or in unapproved factory premises," the spokesman said.

"There were also cases where workers who sourced their own accommodation provided false address information to their employers, as they were residing in overcrowded units."

The MOM stressed that employers are obliged to ensure that their foreign workers' accommodation meets regulatory requirements, and are accountable even when the workers source their own accommodation. "(They) must verify that the addresses provided by the workers are correct. Examples of verification measures include physical visits to their workers' places of residence and having sight of signed tenancy agreements," it said.

Affected employers said the usual practice is to give such workers a housing allowance and have them find accommodation on their own.

Once a worker secures a place to live, he gives the address to his employer, who registers it with the authorities, said Mr Alvin Chan, director of Chin Wah Paints. "Our factory is in Jurong, and the address that our worker gave us was also in Jurong. It didn't raise any red flags," he said.

Mr Khang Gip Meng, general manager of precision metal stamping firm Tek Guthrie, said: "The company has no way to check if all the foreign workers are living at the addresses they gave us. We cannot go and knock on all their doors."

Neither firm had any idea that their workers were registered under fake addresses until they were alerted by the MOM. Both reprimanded the workers involved.

In a strange twist, Mr Khang subsequently looked up his own Paya Lebar home address in the MOM system - only to find that he was a victim himself. According to online records, a foreign worker had been registered under his address since May last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 03, 2019, with the headline 'Misuse of condo residents' addresses sparks concern'. Print Edition | Subscribe