New scheme launched to protect consumers' home renovation deposits

SINGAPORE - A new accreditation scheme has been launched to protect consumers who have paid deposits for home renovation, the Consumers Association of Singapore (Case) revealed in a statement on Saturday (Feb 6).

The new CaseTrust-RCMA joint accreditation scheme will protect customers in the event that a renovation business closes or goes bankrupt by introducing a new deposit performance bond.

Accredited renovation businesses will also be required to adopt a CaseTrust Standard Renovation Contract to ensure cost transparency and accountability, an extra step of protection as compated to the previous CaseTrust accreditation.

The new scheme was jointly developed by Case and the Singapore Renovation Contractors and Material Suppliers Association (RCMA).

Five renovation contractors are the first to be accredited under the new scheme, which was developed after Case and RCMA signed a memorandum of understanding in August 2014.

HDB renovation: The Dos and Don’ts

  • No loads greater than 150 kilograms per metre square of floor area is allowed, to ensure that structural integrity isn’t compromised. So you may want to check how much that freestanding bathtub, for example, weighs.
  • This may be obvious, but you can’t hack or remove structural entities like columns, beams, reinforced concrete walls (the load bearing walls), as well as floor slabs and staircases in a maisonette. It’s best to differentiate which is which and determine what you can’t touch first.
  • Void areas, such as the double-volume staircase area within maisonettes, have to remain as they are — no absorbing them as part of your floor area to get a bigger space.
  • The maximum you are allowed to raise your floor level using concrete is 5 centimetres. This includes the thickness of the finishing (e.g tiles) as well. If you want to have platforms, make sure the frame is constructed using other materials like timber joists.
  • This includes applying paint to anywhere outside your flat, like the window ledges, common corridor walls and ceilings. Take note as well that you’re not supposed to install external grilles on the air-con ledge or use the space as something else.
  • Some renovation works require a permit. Such works include hacking and demolition of internal non-structural walls, enlargement of bathrooms, replacement of floor and wall finishes, changing of floor level, repositioning of internal door entrances, and installation of water feature or pond.
  • Verify with the HDB if you need one, otherwise you may be required to reinstate the changes.
  • When you get the permit, the approved work has to be finished within three months for new blocks, and one month for existing blocks.
  • For new flats, you cannot immediately hack away the floor or wall finishes provided by the HDB in your bathroom. You can only do it three years after the completion date of the block to ensure that the waterproofing membrane laid on the cement screed prevents water leakage.
  • Nevertheless, you can lay new finishes over using adhesives — consider the new slim tiles available in the market for this.
  • When renovating your bathroom, prepacked waterproofing screed and waterproofing membrane has to be applied before laying new floor finishes. After which, conduct a water test with your contractor, as the HDB places heavy emphasis on waterproofing.
  • Even though you engage a HDB-registered contractor, as the homeowner, you are responsible for your own renovation and anything that goes wrong. HDB expects you to ensure that the work carried out is according to the requirements, so never fail to check with your contractor.

In its statement, Case noted that the renovation industry has been among the industries with the highest number of complaints over the past decade.

Complaints usually centre on renovation businesses' unsatisfactory services and failure to honour contractual agreements. There have also been cases where contractors have disappeared after collecting deposit payments, leaving customers in the lurch.

"As home renovation is one of the larger expense items incurred by consumers, and usually involves payments of large sums of deposit to the contractor even before the renovation is completed, there is a need to ensure that consumers' prepayments are protected," the consumer watchdog noted.

All renovation businesses accredited under the new scheme or the previous one will also be subjected to a stringent set of criteria.

These include having a clearly defined resolution mechanism for the business and consumers, ethical sales staff, clearly documented policies on fees and refunds, and compulsory on-site workmanship assessment to be conducted by the Building and Construction Authority.

Case and RCMA also launched a new Singapore Renovation Guide Book to educate consumers on what they should look out for when engaging a contractor for their home renovation.

The book will be available at all Housing and Development Board branches and Town Council offices after Chinese New Year.