MP Hri Kumar – This Is The Real Issue Of DBSS

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In his Facebook page, MP Hri Kumar speaks what he thought was the real issue of DBSS. Hri Kumar is the Member of Parliament (MP) representing the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.

He graduated from the National University of Singapore Faculty of Law with an LLB. Prior to entering politics, he was a lawyer at Drew & Napier and is a director at the firm. He was appointed Senior Counsel in 2008

MP Hri Kumar – This Is The Real Issue Of DBSS

July 14, 2015 at 8:23pm
I was struck by a letter to ST’s Forum Page a couple of days ago. The writer had mistakenly transferred $3,000 from his bank account to another account. He expressed his frustration that his bank could not help him recover his money as the recipient objected to returning the sum. This saga has apparently been going on for 2 years.

The law is clear – if you send money to someone by mistake, you are entitled to recover it. The problem is that the bank is in no position to determine if a mistake had occurred. For example, the sender may well have intended the transfer, but later changed his mind. How is the bank to know who is correct? The recipient has rights too.

The problem should be resolved by the Courts. Therein lies the problem. I suspect that the sender did not go to Court because the legal costs would have been prohibitive, given the sum involved. So, he wanted the bank to provide a quicker and cheaper solution – which the bank could not. This is not an uncommon problem. I often meet residents asking for government agencies to intervene and help them with disputes they have with third parties, and are frustrated when they are asked to turn to the Courts.

What does this have to do with DBSS flats?

The same issue was evident in the exchange in Parliament yesterday relating to defects in DBSS flats. Questions were raised on the quality of finishes and what HDB was doing to resolve disputes between buyers and developers. Parliament was told that HDB would do its best to work with both sides to resolve disputes. But the real problem was not addressed.

In a sale of DBSS units, the buyer enters into a contract directly with the developer. The HDB is not a party. So, while HDB will do its best, what happens when disputes cannot be resolved? The Minister of State said in Parliament that buyers have legal recourse. He is correct, but that is where we run into the same problem. How many buyers have the time and resources to sue? And the claims of each buyer may not be significant, and legal proceedings therefore not economical. So, owners will naturally demand that HDB lean on the developer to get things done. But there may well be cases where the buyer is unreasonable or liability is difficult to determine. If the developer digs in its heels and maintains it has complied with the contract, there is little HDB can legally do. The developer also has rights.

What is the solution? I think issues of public housing warrant a different approach. One way would be for HDB to mandate that the sale contract include a simple dispute resolution mechanism, where all disputes between buyer and developer can be adjudicated in a simple, quick, and less formal way by experienced professionals. The HDB can facilitate this and keep costs low. The adjudicator can direct the developer to effect repairs or make compensation, or rule that the buyer’s complaints are unreasonable. There will be more transparency and less frustration.

I hope this will be considered should HDB decide to re-instate the DBSS program. My greater wish is that the program be shelved permanently, but that is a different story.

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