Housewife Emmiellia Arip and her family were looking forward to moving from a rental unit in Changi into a flat of their own.
Ms Arip, 44, and her husband bought the four-room resale flat in Bukit Batok because they felt it was good value for money at $320,000.
But their happiness has been marred by the discovery of not one or two - but 14 - gaping holes in the ceiling board of their living room.
Ms Arip and her husband, a food and beverage manager, bought the unit at Block 509 in Bukit Batok Street 52 on June 28.
Renovation began two weeks later. On July 20, as contractors were removing the false ceiling installed by the previous owner, they found holes in the ceiling board above it.
"They immediately contacted me. I came down, I saw, and I got the shock of my life," said Ms Arip.
She said she and her husband are the flat's third owners.
She contacted the Housing Board and was told that, as the new owner, she had to take responsibility for the defects and pay for any repair works.
HDB told The Straits Times that, because the flat is a resale unit, the buyer, having bought it on a caveat emptor basis, "will be responsible for any irregularity carried out by the seller in the flat".
But Ms Arip hopes HDB can fix the holes for free. "My new house's renovation is almost complete, except for the ceiling. I told my contractors not to do anything. It's not my doing. Why should I pay for it?"
She said she had inspected the flat before buying it, but the holes had been covered, so she did not know about them.
HDB told ST that, when the block in question "was completed some 30 years ago in 1985, there were no holes in the 'original' ceiling".
An investigation found that the holes were probably created during the installation of the false ceiling by the past owner, said HDB.
"We have explained to the flat owner that these openings do not affect the structural stability or safety of the flat or the building," it said.
Mr Rajan Supramaniam, a lawyer at Hilborne Law LLC, said that before buying a resale flat, valuation and inspection of the unit have to be done, and it is the buyer's responsibility to do them properly. But he noted that, in this case, the ceiling was covered and the owner might not have seen it.
"If she had known about the defect during the valuation and inspection stage, then she could have asked the previous owner to absorb the costs," he said, adding that HDB does not have to pay for repair of the holes, unless they make the building structurally unsound.
"If it's a new flat such as a Build-To-Order one, and the problem concerns the workmanship, then HDB will bear responsibility," he noted. "But if it's a resale flat, and the defect is cosmetic and within the confines of the unit, then it would just become part of the buyer's renovation costs."
The "lemon law", which protects consumers against defective goods, does not apply here, said Consumers Association of Singapore executive director Seah Seng Choon, as it does not apply to property.
This article was first published on Aug 13, 2016.
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