PAP MINISTER: RESIDENTS NOT HAPPY WITH THEIR DBSS? THEY CAN SUE THE DEVELOPER

In Parliament today (13 Jul), NCMP Yee Jenn Jong from WP asked the Minister for National Development (MND) the following questions:

(a) what is the number of complaints that HDB received with regard to defects, poor quality or dissatisfaction with (i) new Build-To-Order (BTO) flats and (ii) Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats that have been completed in the last two years;

(b) how has the rate of complaints changed over the past 10 years;

(c) what is HDB’s role in ensuring quality and dealing with complaints about quality of DBSS flats; and

(d) whether a Zero Workmanship Defect Pledge can be introduced for contractors and developers to pledge their commitment to work towards zero workmanship defects.

Desmond Lee, Minister of State for National Development, replied on behalf of MND.

He said that with regard to the defects in various DBSS projects which were in the news recently, the DBSS developers are contractually obliged to build the units in a “good and workman-like manner”.

“DBSS projects are developed by different private developers, who may offer varying fixtures and finishes for their project. The feedback on the quality of finishes would differ from project to project,” Mr Lee said.

Residents who face quality issues may report them to the Building Service Centre managed by the developer during the 1-year warranty period. If the developer fails to address them, the buyers will have legal recourse against the developer as provided under the Sales and Purchase Agreement, Mr Lee said.

Responding to questions from opposition leader Low Thia Khiang on HDB’s role in the DBSS projects, Mr Lee said the HDB provides the broad parameters such as the mix of flat sizes and the range of facilities, within which the private developers are given the flexibility to build and sell flats. HDB also sets the buyer eligibility rules for DBSS flats.

“And because of that it (the developer) takes the responsibility for its private development work… the sales and purchase is in black and white and it is with the residents and the developer,” said Mr Lee. HDB is not a party to the agreement for DBSS projects. It merely sells its land to private developers to build flats for private sale.

“But having said that, that is not to say that the HDB entirely takes no responsibility at all, does not do anything at all. That is clearly not the experience,” he added.

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He cited how HDB helped to mediate between the residents and developer of the Trivelis project, and “worked behind the scenes” to reach a resolution. HDB still “plays an active role in ensuring a fair and satisfactory outcome”, he added.

He also defended HDB, saying that it had met with DBSS developers during the design stage to share the agency’s experiences from DBSS projects. But obviously, some of these developers were not listening and as a result, residents were up in arms over some of the recent poorly completed DBSS projects.

Mr Yee noted that the official intent of the DBSS scheme is “to meet the housing aspirations of higher income flat buyers for better design and finishes”.

“So do all these complaints signify that DBSS has actually failed in the intent?” he asked.

Mr Lee replied that it was important to note that there have been 13 DBSS projects since 2005. “Not to trivialise the defects and the concern that first-time homebuyers in particular feel when they see scratches or paint marks on their units or more serious defects, but I think you shouldn’t… use these current few points that have been in the public eye to condemn the entire scheme as a failure,” he said.

But then again, it’s interesting to note that MND suspended the DBSS scheme in 2011 despite Mr Lee’s refusal to acknowledge that the scheme is a failure.

Quality of BTO flats improved from 2003 to 2014

Mr Lee said that the quality of BTO flats undertaken by HDB has actually improved. He cited the CONQUAS score which measures the quality of buildings, showing that the quality of BTO flats has improved 13% from a score of 79 in 2003 to 89 in 2014.

The quality of the flats has not been compromised despite a ramping up of BTO projects over the last 4 years, Mr Lee claimed. “It (quality) continues to rise and is comparable to that in private developments,” he said.

He revealed that on average, a third of all new residents will complain about defects to the Building Service Centre after collecting their keys.

But he said that the majority of complaints are about “surface imperfections” such as hairline cracks on walls, scratches on timber floor, or uneven tile joints.

“Such imperfections are mostly within acceptable industry norms and these are also common in private developments. They can and should be rectified quickly by the contractors, and do not affect the structural integrity or safety of the building.”

Mr Lee argued that sometimes, it’s due to “differences in the understanding of what constitutes a defect”.

“For example, some owners have given feedback on colour inconsistencies for floors with timber finishes. As timber is a natural product, it is not possible to achieve a perfectly homogenous look,” he said.

Mr Lee assured the House that HDB has “zero tolerance” for defects which may compromise structural or safety standards, or which deviate significantly from what has been promised to buyers. But he avoided guaranteeing that “surface imperfections” in flats would be eliminated.

The number of defects reported over the years has not changed significantly, he added.

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