Sunday, March 24, 2013

HDB backs down on acquiring flat; legal challenge averted

The Straits Times  |  Mar 20, 2013

A flat owner's bid to challenge the HDB's move to take back his five-room unit ended yesterday when the Housing Board told the High Court it will withdraw its notice of intent to acquire the flat.

Mr Chew Teck Fatt in return agreed not to proceed with his judicial review application.
Justice Woo Bih Li, who made no order on the application, ruled that HDB pay Mr Chew's legal costs at the closed-door hearing.

Yesterday's turn of events staved off a potential landmark case on whether the decisions of the HDB and the office of the Minister of National Development can be the subject of judicial review.

When contacted last night, Mr Chew, a 38-year-old company director, said he was about to leave for Taiwan in the morning with a "heavy heart" as this matter had caused him stress for about two years. But "I felt very relieved and happy when my lawyer Kirpal called me and said the case was withdrawn, just as I was about to board the plane".

An HDB spokesman The Straits Times spoke to warned that the board "takes a serious view of any unauthorised subletting as HDB flats are primarily meant for owner occupation.

"In this particular case, as additional information had surfaced after Mr Chew had filed his court application, we decided to give him the benefit of doubt...

"This avoids unnecessary litigation in court and will save both time and costs for the court and all the parties concerned."

Mr Chew had bought the resale flat along Bukit Batok Street 25 for $480,000 in 2010.
The next year, he let out a room to a couple and then a second to a Taiwanese man whose child went to school here. In both cases, he had HDB's approval.

But a probe by HDB officers, which included surveillance of the flat and interviews with the tenants, found that he was not living there.

It is a longstanding HDB policy that where an owner does not stay in his flat during the period of subletting, this would be evidence that the whole unit was being rented out. Subletting an entire flat without approval is against the rules, and can lead to the HDB compulsorily acquiring the unit.

But Mr Chew denied renting out the whole flat and claimed he kept the third room for his use. He also said that there were times when he worked late or stayed at his mother's place at Jalan Bahagia in Balestier.

He made several appeals against the acquisition and said he sought his MP's help. When they all failed, he went to court, arguing that he had a right to be heard on all the evidence gathered.

At issue in the case would have been whether there must be continuous physical occupation of the flat before Mr Chew can be said to have abandoned his interest in the unit and was wholly subletting it illegally.

At yesterday's hearing, the court was informed that both HDB and the minister would notify Mr Chew in writing that they would not pursue their notice of intent to re-acquire his flat made in December 2011 and January 2012 respectively. The minister's decision is made after any aggrieved party appeals to his office in a compulsory acquisition notice by HDB.

Justice Woo asked for copies of the letters to be deposited with the High Court registry, said lawyer Kirpal Singh on Mr Chew's behalf.

Martin Koh | 86666 944 | R020968Z
Sherry Tang | 9844 4400 | R020241C

Senior Sales Director
DTZ Property Network Pte Ltd (L3007960A)

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