Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Hope For Owners Fighting En Bloc

Source : The Straits Times, August 11, 2008

A website with information on the laws and processes in collective sales is aimed at helping minority owners

THE name of the website - - says it all. It is a forum for, and set up by, people who are worried about losing their homes in a collective sale.

Its opening words are a call to arms.

'We need to share our experiences to get us through this nightmare,' it reads.

'We hope that our daily lives can be free from the constant worries of losing our homes to those who see home as a mere financial tool for wealth.'

Cosmetics distributor Tan Keng Ann started the site when his neighbours wanted their condominium along Toh Tuck Road sold en bloc last year.

The 60-year-old said there had been a dearth of information online about collective sales.

'We want this to be an educational site, for people to learn more about en bloc sales.'

And so the Hope website was born. (It is an acronym for Home Owners' Protecting Entitlements.)

The site started in February with about five or six members from estates on the chopping block. Today, it has a core group of 25 flat owners scattered in 15 estates that are going through the sale process, some for the second time.

They include Bayshore Park, Green Lodge and Pine Grove, some of which made waves in the media by forming an anti-sales brigade.

The Hope group's objective is to equip stayers, also called minority owners, with information about the en bloc process so they can fight to keep their homes.

The website is expansive. It includes a compilation of the collective sales law, legal tips for minority owners and a list of confirmed, on-going and failed en bloc deals.

One member, who declined to be named, joined after some new faces at her condominium tried to get elected to the management committee.

She said: 'I didn't know what these people were up to.'

She learnt soon after when a collective sales order was tabled.

For those who opposed the sale, information about the en bloc law was key, she said. They were facing an uphill battle against a majority of owners who had professional consultants to guide them through the legal minefield.

One minority owner in Rainbow Gardens along Toh Tuck Road wishes he had known earlier how to navigate the en bloc landscape.

The resident, who declined to be named, protested against the sale even though it had the requisite 80 per cent support to go through.

His appeal to the Strata Title Board, a government authority that rules on en bloc sales, was turned down. He took the case to the High Court but, the sale went through before it was heard.

Disappointed, the man said he is considering writing about his ordeal for the Hope website.

He said: 'My advice to minority owners is pray hard you don't get the 80 per cent.'

Meanwhile, the Hope group is cobbling together a list of proposals for the Law Ministry to consider.

A ministry spokesman said it will 'continue to monitor the effect of the changes in practice, and review the feedback to see if further amendments to the en bloc rules are necessary'.

Not everyone is supportive of the Hope website, though.

Mr Issac Chin, an investor who sits on the sales committee of Pearl Bank Apartments at Outram Park, which is trying to go en bloc, does not see the need for such a group.

He said the law is clear: if 80 per cent of the owners want to sell, the sale will go through.

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