Blocked corridors are the biggest obstacle when it comes to estate maintenance, and town councils remain hapless in solving the problem.
Unlike the condition of railings or electrical fittings, it is residents rather than town councils that are responsible.
And too many of the residents are used to occupying common areas with flowerpots and shoe cabinets, for example, said council chairmen.
"It's quite a tough problem to solve," said Jurong Town Council chairman David Ong.
The issue was flagged in the annual Town Council Management Report released on Tuesday, highlighting obstruction of common areas as the biggest problem.
It accounts for 32 per cent of all estate maintenance issues - the category which tripped up most of the estates. Eleven out of 16 of them scored only "amber", a medium rating, in estate maintenance.
In contrast, all 16 scored "green", the best rating, in other areas like estate cleanliness and lift performance.
The longstanding bugbear could be partly due to ignorance, said Mr Ong.
Not many are aware of the Singapore Civil Defence Force guidelines requiring a clear space, at least 1.2m wide, to be maintained along corridors.
Town councils' soft approaches could be a factor too. Most prefer persuasion to enforcement. "We try to talk to the residents first and advise them to remove it," said Mr Ong.
Added Pasir Ris-Punggol Town Council chairman Zainal Sapari: "If the neighbours are fine with it - some people like to put a small table or chair outside like a mini-balcony - we try not to make an issue of it."
Marine Parade Town Council chairman Lim Biow Chuan agreed: "We try to be flexible if it does not impede wheelchairs or stretchers."
Town councils that achieved a green banding said co-operation, more than enforcement, was the key to success.
Said Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, chairman of Nee Soon Town Council: "It's just hard work."
His town council puts up posters to raise awareness and recently launched a campaign for gracious neighbourly behaviour. Enforcement is a last resort.
Ang Mo Kio Town Council's outreach efforts include daily inspections where residents are advised on the storage of items, said chairman Lam Pin Min.
There are also mass cleaning exercises to help clear unwanted and bulky items along corridors.
Sembawang Town Council chairman Hawazi Daipi attributes his town council's green rating to helpful feedback combined with thorough inspections and swift action.
For Tanjong Pagar Town Council chairman Lily Neo, reaching out to residents who have hoarding issues is also key.
But ultimately, it is up to residents to keep common areas clear. Housewife May Goh, 52, is one who makes sure to leave adequate space along the corridor.
"These are kept very neatly," she said in Mandarin, gesturing to the shelf of potted plants next to her unit.
She has not seen any issues with obstruction in her Housing Board block at Serangoon Central, she added: "All the neighbours here are very considerate."
This article was first published on Nov 7, 2014.
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