She thought she had rented out her flat to three men from China with respectable professions. Their S passes were valid and nothing seemed fishy.
But she was overwhelmed with disgust when she discovered that her four-room flat near Sembawang MRT station had been turned into a brothel.
Her first thought was: "Die! I have to replace the mattresses!"
Last month, the police called to tell her about the illegal activities in her flat. They had raided the unit four times and confirmed that it had been used as a brothel.
She and her property agent went to the flat the next day but could not gain entry.
"We heard noises inside but they refused to open the door," the agent told The New Paper.
With police assistance, they got a locksmith to open the door and change the locks.
"Two Chinese women and a man were taken away by the police," she added.
The agent and the owner, who both declined to be identified as they hope to rent out the unit again, were shocked by the mess in the flat.
"The whole place was in bad shape. The kitchen was grimy with unwashed dishes and the toilet pipe was leaking," said the agent.
"At least 20 towels were strewn around the unit. I saw China-brand condoms and a vibrator."
While the police were taking down the particulars of the two female suspects, two men walked towards the flat before turning abruptly to hurry away.
Under the Women's Charter, it is illegal to maintain a brothel. Yet TNP found at least 10 websites advertising sexual services in different parts of Singapore.
A locksmith who gave his name as Mr Lin said vice-related activities in the Sembawang neighbourhood are not new.
He has changed the locks of at least four "hanky-panky" units in Sembawang in the last four months, he said.
"When the property agent called me up to ask to take up a job in Sembawang related to a 'hanky-panky' case, I knew it was about prostitution."
Asked how he could tell if a flat had been used for prostitution, Mr Lin said the same tell-tale signs are always present.
"There are always many bedsheets and mattresses in the unit. I see condoms, both used and new, lying around as well," he said. "But I try not to ask too much about what happened."
In January, Chinese evening daily Lianhe Wanbao reported that a flat at Canberra Road in Sembawang was used for vice-related activities.
Different men were seen flocking to the unit during lunchtime. Instead of knocking, they would make a phone call before they were admitted into the flat.
Obscene noises could also be heard coming from the unit, Wanbao reported.
Late last month, readers tipped off TNP about an HDB block at Woodlands Drive 70 where a ninth-storey unit was suspected of being used as a brothel.
They said that many men turned up at odd hours at the unit, which had been vacant for more than a year until the recent activities.
A resident of the block, who wanted to be known only as Madam Lim, 46, said she once saw a well-dressed Westerner with two scantily-clad women entering the unit.
Madam Lim has also seen dozens of casually-dressed men in their 30s to 40s turning up there.
The babysitter said: "I see them in the evening when I need to throw out the rubbish or take the baby home. The men are always looking at their phones and searching for a unit."
Shin Min Daily News also reported that three foreign women moved into the unit recently.
Then advertisements promoting sexual services and urging men to "seek pleasure" appeared online, the report said.
The residents said they were worried about the safety of their loved ones, especially their young daughters.
R'ST Research director Ong Kah Seng said vice-related activities are "not too surprising" but are a cause for alarm.
The property analyst said that when the rental market favours the tenants, flat owners may be more lax in choosing their tenants.
"Rather than keeping units empty, they are less particular about the profile of their tenants and what they do in the flat," he said.
SLP International Property Consultants head of research Nicholas Mak said: "My guess is that if the prostitutes have to work in the shadows, they would likely prefer places where they can blend in with the surroundings to avoid detection."
He does not think the value of a flat will drop just because it had been used for vice-related activities.
Heartland brothels advertise online
Heartland brothels operating in HDB flats advertise their services online in an attempt to remain undetected.
Their websites feature pictures of scantily-clad women, mostly from China.
The women are sorted according to the areas in Singapore where they ply their services, but no specific addresses are listed.
Accompanying each prostitute's picture is a list of the sexual services she provides. On some websites, a price is tagged to her services.
Interested customers can arrange to meet the prostitutes by calling the mobile numbers listed on the website. Once a booking is confirmed, the customer will be given an address to go to.
In the case of some brothels that were busted earlier this week, customers are told only the block number and they have to call again on arrival for the flat's unit number.
The New Paper did an online check and found at least 10 such websites. At least five were registered with a Singapore address and contact number.
Under the Women's Charter, it is illegal to manage a brothel here.
A brothel is defined as a place occupied or used by any two or more women or girls, whether at the same time or at different times, for the purpose of prostitution.
Anyone convicted of acting as the tenant, lessee or occupier or person in charge of a brothel and keeping, managing or assisting in the management of a brothel can be jailed up to five years or fined up to $10,000, or both.
Anyone who knowingly lives wholly or in part on the earnings of the prostitution of another person can also be jailed up to five years and fined up to $10,000.
Flat owners who are aware that the units are being used as brothels and do nothing about it are also committing an offence. They can be fined up to $3,000 or jailed up to three years, or both. Repeat offenders can be fined up to $10,000 or jailed up to five years, or both.
This article was first published on July 11, 2015.
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