20140716 Affected premium HDB flat owners should be given discount, consider legal action

I refer to the recent complaints of defects found in new premium HDB flats in Anchorvale Horizon, Tampines Central 8 and most recently Tampines Greenleaf (complaints from 30% of units).

All these projects were built during the period when HDB had to ramp up housing construction due to no planning. Our government scholars only look at the numbers and to them, what matters was the completion of 204,461 public and private homes before the next election. How they go about it does not matter. Neither does the quality of workmanship.

Everybody knows, maybe except the PAP, that skilled labour is inelastic. Can the government confirm only skilled labour from third world countries are constructing our first world housing? Or maybe they are just general workers taught to lay tiles and do plumbing work in a 1 day WDA course?  The problems encountered by new homeowners were foreseeable may just be the tip of the iceberg. Why?

Issues with house renovation may show up only years later. A friend had lived in Toa Payoh and before moving out, tiles had started to pop off after 4 years. The HDB should be able to confirm this. One unit in Woodlands had it worse with 10 tiles popping off a wall after 10 years! How the cement, sand and water are mixed is important and only a skillful worker can do this correctly. The possibly worst scenario was was highlighted on TRS in September last year.

MND must not totally rely on contractors to provide ‘skilled’ manpower as HDB owners will encounter unnecessary problems in future.

I had a similar issue with shoddy workmanship 4 years ago. Since I was renting a flat nearby, I had the opportunity to learn about renovation every other day. And fortunately I was there!

What shocked me was workers had prior instructions and worked without any supervision nor was there any inspection of their work. My designer/contractor only awaited feedback/complaint. It was frustrating to have to inform them about what was happening and basically I paid them $52,000 to trouble shoot for them. The final straw was the handover – the designer did not even bother to show up or conduct any pre handover inspection although I needed my flat urgently.

Handover means handing over all their stuff with stains all over the floor.

Carpentry work had tens of scratches.

Some installation just trial and error, maybe some workers were OJT.

Simple silicone job sub standard…. or … simply forgot?

Every screw did not have any threading after the ‘assistant plumber’ misused the cordless driver. It appeared to be his first time using the tool.
The worst was prevented when the contractor wanted to install the false ceiling which covered a sagging water pipe. I had been informing my designer for weeks to have it fixed but they just could not be bothered. Once the false ceiling was up, it would have been hidden. Imagine if a leak occurred months/years later, my bill would be in the thousands. An issue like this could be prevented.

I was certain of all the above incidents because I was present at the site. On some occasions, I even bought food for the workers. The renovation was supposed to have taken 6 weeks but took 4 months (even though overlapped CNY, it was still too long because priority given to other work sites resulted in longer delays). Similar to the experience of some premium HDB flat owners, the rectified work had to be re rectified!

There are numerous instances of shoddy workmanship but one thing for certain, they are due to:
– unskilled labour
– no supervision and no QC

Renovation is all about cutting costs and padding their profits with minimum labour. This is standard hit-and-run practice with almost all contractors, including HDB’s.

There was a lot of frustration and many of the issues could have been prevented if a qualified supervisor or the designer had been on site occasionally. So what are we paying for?

I had no choice but to take action against the designer. I filed a complaint with CASE which directed me to the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT). The SCT is an office with a Referee (Judge) who will listen to the evidence. A representative from HDB must attend the hearing. Evidence of shoddy workmanship should be presented in an objective manner.

The process of filing a claim is not that complicated. By doing so, the HDB contractor will be forced to take the issue seriously. It is important to have all the relevant documents, especially photos, to support the claim. I recovered $3,500 from my designer.

HDB should not continue to allow unnecessary delays and cause more frustration to owners. Owners paid a premium and HDB must deliver quality finishes. Owners should take legal action now as this will also put the onus on HDB to prevent any recurrence.

Why have rectification works been delayed? To tend to the cases HDB’s shoddy workmanship would mean transferring workers from other sites. This will delay the completion of new projects and what matters most to contractors is of course profit.

The reality is the issue of defects and shoddy workmanship will not be resolved expeditiously because money has already been paid by buyers. It was also reported on social media “Defects reported in BTO flats constructed by Soilbuild – firm linked to PAP grassroots”. Since 30% of the units constructed by Soilbuild have filed complaints, will HDB take remedial action against its contractor?  The right course of action for the HDB is to compensate owners by reducing the final payment to Soilbuild.

Affected owners should know their rights and taking legal action against the HDB (flat bought from HDB, let them ensure rectification is carried out to your satisfaction) may be the only recourse. Without legal action, one should not expect contractors to take rectification work (no profit) seriously.

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5 Responses to 20140716 Affected premium HDB flat owners should be given discount, consider legal action

  1. Isupportyou says:

    It will be very difficult for purchaser to pursue the matter individually against HDB because of the huge legal cost involved. This usually requires a class action which again pose problem as one would have to convince most of the other purchasers.

    HDB or private developer has a complete defence against this type of suit if it ever arises by proving to the Court that it has engaged a qualified and independent contractor undertaking the construction works. The previous Thomson 800 was a classic example.

    It then followsed that the purchasers can only go after the contractor in tort and not in contract provided the HDB or the developer wants to suit the contractor under its own contractual terms. One of the easier way were to call upon the 5% performance bond, at the very least. But, would they do that?

  2. mark.m says:

    Hi,

    may i know who was the designer/contractor that you engaged? how long did you take to recover the compensation from them?

    • phillip ang says:

      It would not be fair to disclose the name of the contractor as we have settled the issue.
      I met the director at the Small Claims Tribunal and he agreed to settle the matter on the day itself. I had a very good case against his company because there was negligence on many issues.
      Some tips which you may need. Photographic evidence is important as well as the terms of your contract. The ‘judge’ will listen to both parties and then ask both to negotiate outside his office.
      Your claim should be highest possible amount because there will be some bargaining by the contractor. Do your sums before the appointment. Once agreement struck, follow simple procedures. In my case, I asked for $7 k and settled for $3k. The contractor settled within a few days. Hope this helps.

  3. Isupportyou says:

    I never like small claim tribunal if you have a very good case because you will end up only getting less than half of what you look for. I find that it only mediates and the party that benefited most is the defaulting party. It’s OK if you quantum is small.

    If you have a good case and your stake is high and a lot of victims involved, you may want to pool for class action so that you split the legal bills.

    The HDB is likely yo get away and you can only have a cause against the contractor because HDB would have a complete defence of having employed an independent contractor. This is the court ruling in the Thomson 800 case if I remembered correctly.

    I hope this will help.

    • phillip ang says:

      Agree class action suit is best course for the hundreds of HDB residents. May be very time consuming and there is a risk that the outcome may not be favourable.
      HDB could have facilitated but washes its hands from the issue after making a profit. It hides behind the PAP which is the law in Singapore. It had also abdicated its responsibility by failing to inspect the units before handing over.
      It is unlikely HDB contractors, some politically affiliated, will suffer much losses. This is the reality.
      (Consumers are screwed by a pro biz govt. Just look at CASE – a toothless consumer association with a pro business government MP as president.)

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