Parliament passed amendments to the Housing and Development Act today. The new amendments give Housing and Development Board (HDB) officers powers to enter flats to investigate and carry out repair works without permission from the flat-owner if there is imminent danger to the public.

They will also be given powers to enter flats to carry out repair works with a court warrant in cases where ceiling leaks have become serious and urgent.

Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said in Parliament today that although the powers may be perceived as a “drastic measure”, he assured that the HDB will only exercise its powers after exhausting all avenues to get the owners’ cooperation.

He cited cases of when the powers would come in useful. In the case of a flat in Bishan, a homeowner had demolished part of a structural column without applying for a renovation permit, putting the entire block in danger as the column was critical to the structural integrity of the building. While in this case the homeowner had cooperated and allowed HDB engineers to enter and reinstate the column overnight, HDB might be caught in a difficult situation if an owner refused entry, said Mr Lee.

“In such situations, it is imperative for HDB to be able to intervene and intervene quickly,” he said. “Members would agree with me that imposing a statutory requirement for HDB to only enter the flat with a court warrant would lose precious hours, when there is severe risk to life and property.”

In the case of a flat in Yishun, the ceilings in the master bedroom toilet and kitchen toilet of the flat were leaking so badly that stalactites started to form in both toilets. The leaks had also resulted in spalling concrete on the ceiling, exposing the reinforcement bars. The case has remained unresolved since it was reported to HDB in June 2012, despite efforts from the HDB and local grassroots leaders to persuade the upper-floor neighbours to cooperate. In such a case, the power to enter after obtaining a court warrant would be useful.

Under the revised laws, the HDB will inform give the home owner 24 hours’ notice before applying for a court warrant for entry. “Should they still refuse to cooperate, HDB may then apply to court for a warrant to enter the flat to investigate the leak and to carry out repairs,” said Mr Lee.

When HDB contractors investigate and conduct repair work in HDB flats, they will be required to show proof of their identity to the lessees or occupiers. There will also be at least one HDB officer present in the flat during the investigation and repair work. The officer will also be required to show their proof of identity to the owners or occupiers of the flat.

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