Court bid to quash HDB's seizure of couple's flat

Court bid to quash HDB's seizure of couple's flat

A businessman whose four-room flat was compulsorily acquired for unauthorised subletting is set to face the Housing Board in court today in a bid to quash the decision.

Mr Per Ah Seng, 47, wants the High Court to review whether the HDB acted unfairly, as he claimed it did not disclose sufficient details on its investigations before the seizure to enable him to respond adequately.

The HDB had found that the entire flat was rented out without Mr Per and his wife, the co-owners, first getting written authorisation as required by its rules. But Mr Per insisted they rented out only two rooms, which he registered online with the HDB as required. He denied renting out the entire flat.

He did, however, admit that there were times such as the weekends when the couple and their two children stayed overnight in his mother's Hougang flat. This was because she lived alone and was depressed after her husband died in 2009.

The HDB told The Straits Times that this is the first High Court case involving "a judicial review for compulsory acquisition of a flat that is going for a hearing".

The test case may clarify what is required for an owner to show he is in continuous physical occupation of the flat and did not abandon the unit.

It is understood that the HDB had conducted extensive surveillance and interviewed the flat's tenants in the run-up to its finding that Mr Per's whole flat was rented out without its approval. The flat was seized last year.

Mr Per, who bought the resale unit in Bukit Batok Central in 2007 for $368,000, said he registered details of his sub-tenants online in April 2010. Three months later, the HDB notified him that he had let out the entire flat without consent.

He applied for the judicial review through lawyer Kirpal Singh as a last resort, after appeals to the HDB and the Minister for National Development, including through his Member of Parliament, failed.

The HDB told The Straits Times on Tuesday that five flats were compulsorily acquired in the last three years for unauthorised subletting.

"Flats compulsorily acquired will be returned to HDB and may be offered to flat applicants," its spokesman said. "Where flat owners object to HDB's decision, HDB will consider their objections based on the merits of the case."

The HDB has previously made it clear it takes a serious view of unauthorised subletting, since public flats are primarily meant for owner occupation.

Top law firm Allen & Gledhill is representing the HDB, while the Attorney-General's Chambers is representing the minister.

This article was first published on October 31, 2014.
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