Wednesday, 13 August 2008

Prime News on Hope Group

This is something we don't see often - when a group of self-volunteered home owners get together to create a website with information to help other owners who are being subjected to the enbloc blight. "Self-volunteer? Sure, like the sales committee!" I hear some cry, but there's a big difference - sales committee 'volunteers' have a big FINANCIAL gain out at the end of their effort, assuming the sale succeeds. Hope volunteers have no such gain except the satisfaction that they have helped to educate the public, and helped owners to protect their basic, fundamental, right to a home. And THAT, my friends, is what volunteerism should be about. Don't see much of that around nowadays, when others are put before self.

This was printed in the Straits Times the day after National Day. I'm reprinting the whole thing, and I have a wee comment at the end, in response to the last person interviewed in the piece.

Hope for owners fighting en bloc; A website with information on the laws and processes in collective sales is aimed at helping minority owners
Straits Times Prime News 11 August 2008
By Lim Wei Chean & Arlina Arshad

THE name of the website - - says it all. It is a forum for, and set up by, people who are worried about losing their homes in a collective sale.

Its opening words are a call to arms.

'We need to share our experiences to get us through this nightmare,' it reads.

'We hope that our daily lives can be free from the constant worries of losing our homes to those who see home as a mere financial tool for wealth.'

Cosmetics distributor Tan Keng Ann started the site when his neighbours wanted their condominium along Toh Tuck Road sold en bloc last year.

The 60-year-old said there had been a dearth of information online about collective sales.

'We want this to be an educational site, for people to learn more about en bloc sales.'

And so the Hope website was born. (It is an acronym for Home Owners' Protecting Entitlements.)

The site started in February with about five or six members from estates on the chopping block. Today, it has a core group of 25 flat owners scattered in 15 estates that are going through the sale process, some for the second time.

They include Bayshore Park, Green Lodge and Pine Grove, some of which made waves in the media by forming an anti-sales brigade.

The Hope group's objective is to equip stayers, also called minority owners, with information about the en bloc process so they can fight to keep their homes.

The website is expansive. It includes a compilation of the collective sales law, legal tips for minority owners and a list of confirmed, on-going and failed en bloc deals.

One member, who declined to be named, joined after some new faces at her condominium tried to get elected to the management committee.

She said: 'I didn't know what these people were up to.'

She learnt soon after when a collective sales order was tabled.

For those who opposed the sale, information about the en bloc law was key, she said. They were facing an uphill battle against a majority of owners who had professional consultants to guide them through the legal minefield.

One minority owner in Rainbow Gardens along Toh Tuck Road wishes he had known earlier how to navigate the en bloc landscape.

The resident, who declined to be named, protested against the sale even though it had the requisite 80 per cent support to go through.

His appeal to the Strata Title Board, a government authority that rules on en bloc sales, was turned down. He took the case to the High Court but, the sale went through before it was heard.

Disappointed, the man said he is considering writing about his ordeal for the Hope website.

He said: 'My advice to minority owners is pray hard you don't get the 80 per cent.'

Meanwhile, the Hope group is cobbling together a list of proposals for the Law Ministry to consider.

A ministry spokesman said it will 'continue to monitor the effect of the changes in practice, and review the feedback to see if further amendments to the en bloc rules are necessary'.

Not everyone is supportive of the Hope website, though.

Mr Issac Chin, an investor who sits on the sales committee of Pearl Bank Apartments at Outram Park, which is trying to go en bloc, does not see the need for such a group.

He said the law is clear: if 80 per cent of the owners want to sell, the sale will go through.

Mr Chin is absolutely correct - the law is indeed 'clear' on the matter of what criteria should a sale counts as valid. However, as many who have been through enblocs and suffered for it know, the law is also very UNCLEAR and SILENT about many things:

  • The law is SILENT about the fact that home is a basic fundamental right, and it should not be the case that other owners can take that right away from you. It's like if 80% of your community vote that you must convert to a particular religion, you must comply, whether you like it or not. I'm sure noone will stand up for that, right?
  • The law is UNCLEAR about how to handle harassment from aggressive people, be it majority or minority. They are able to act with impunity because they are fully aware that their actions will not count as any form of bad faith under the enbloc law. This shouldn't be the case at all.
  • The law is UNCLEAR on what should count as good faith, especially considering that numerous arguments have been made in front of STB about many incidents that should constitute bad faith, but were thrown out simply because the law was too restrictive in its meaning of 'good faith'.
  • The law is UNCLEAR about itself. We've seen legal titans battle it out in court, we've seen judges issue judgments that seem to sometimes contradict the meaning of the law, and other times advocate the enbloc law to a fanatical degree. If such legal minds that make up our legal profession can spend hundreds of thousands of dollars slugging it out in court, often at our expense, does it not say something about the law itself? Worse, where does that put us civilians who have little to no knowledge of legal matters?
As Mr Chin showed, he chose a particular interpretation of the enbloc law - that of a single point of 80%. Hope stayers will clearly highlight that there are numerous other parts of the law that is highly ambiguous, questionable and even so legally knotted that it really should at the very least be re-examined.


Anonymous said...

One should just look at the High Court's decision on Horizon Towers.

Higher offer vs lower offer? Lower offer is okay.

Intrigues about the Sales Committee? STB is not the place to argue those.

Mr. Ong Cher Meng's letter in Today, 19 July 2008 says it all.

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