Thursday, August 30, 2012

Can't sit tight in black and white

Straits Times: Thu, Aug 30

TENANTS living in colonial-era "black and white" houses can no longer lease them indefinitely, under new rules introduced by the Government.

The aim is to prevent existing occupants from hogging the spacious, highly sought-after homes and give more people the chance to experience a slice of history.

Under the fresh rules, tenants can rent black and white landed property from the state for up to nine years. After that, they have to reapply for it.

While some new occupants said the change was fair, others who have made the mock Tudor-style properties their permanent homes are upset at the prospect of having to move out.

Commercial pilot Srihari Vaidun, 39, who has lived in a house in Seletar for more than two decades, said: "It's a very peaceful and green area with friendly neighbours, and I have never found a reason to leave."

Built by the British between the late 19th century and World War II, the government-owned homes are instantly recognisable for their black and white exteriors and spacious grounds. Originally designed for military officers, High Court judges and other important members of colonial society, they are popular for their high ceilings, tall windows and large verandahs that let in the breeze.

But until recently, supply was limited by the fact that tenants could keep on renewing their contracts every two years indefinitely. As a result, some have been living in them for a very long time.

The Singapore Land Authority (SLA), which manages about 500 black and white properties, said making them available to the public after nine years would give everyone an equal opportunity to bid for them and ensure that "the process is transparent and fair".

An SLA spokesman said those immediately affected by the new policy, which was introduced in March, have already been informed. Tenants who have been living in black and white homes for seven years or more will be offered a final two-year term at the prevailing market rate unless there are unresolved tenancy issues or the property is going to be redeveloped.

They will then have to apply to live in the house, just like new tenants would, by submitting a bid on the State Property Information Online website. All other tenants will be "progressively and personally" informed when their leases come up for renewal.

Black and white houses "form a unique and distinct sector of the local real estate market, where the available supply is limited", said the SLA spokesman.

She said the authority decided to change the policy because of the high number of people interested in renting them.

Mr Nicholas Mak, head of research at property consultancy SLP International, said demand for black and white homes must have gone up significantly for the changes to have taken place.

New occupant Melissa Siew, who will move into a three-bedroom house in Lorong Sesuai beside Bukit Batok Nature Park this week, welcomed the new rules. "It's a fair system," said the self-employed 33-year-old. "Without it, people like me wouldn't have the chance to live in such property."

Mr Gary Phun, who works in the construction industry, said moving from an HDB flat in Yishun to a black and white home in Seletar meant more space for his family of eight. The 37-year-old may make full use of the nine-year term.

The historical properties can be found in areas such as Portsdown Road and Sembawang. Rent can range from about $3,000 to over $20,000. Tenants pay the bid price for the first two years. After that, the rent is adjusted according to market rates. About 70 per cent of black and white houses are rented out to foreigners, said a report last year.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C
Senior Sales Director
DTZ Debenham Tie Leung (SEA) Pte Ltd (L3006301G)

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