Speech by Er Dr Lee Bee Wah at the second reading of the Planning (Amendment) Bill in Parliament on 6th Feb 2017
Mr Deputy Speaker,
1. Singapore is a small, densely-populated nation that relies heavily on good urban planning to maximise our space and resources. Barely half a century has passed since we implemented a proper framework, and housing has transformed from dirty slums and vulnerable kampungs to the high-rise buildings we have today.
2. I welcome the changes to reduce the number of people one can sublet to, to not more than 6 in private housing. And I’m sure it will decrease the disamenities faced by the affected residents. After all, home is a place for us to rest after a long day. My question is, why not extend this to HDB flats?
3. Currently, for four-room and bigger HDB units the maximum number of persons residing is to 9 people. Why the disparity? A HDB flat, which is even more compact, can house up to 9 people. I urge that this maximum number be whittled down to no more than 6 persons also. An overcrowded apartment can be very noisy and a constant source of stress and irritation to the neighbours. Residents have come to me with feedback about their neighbours’ rowdy tenants. Furthermore, some of these tenants would leave footwear and other belongings on the common corridor, which is not only unsightly but inconveniences the other neighbours.
Just during a recent house visit, a resident complained to me about the tenants in her neighbouring unit. She said they spit in the lift lobby, and smoke at the lift lobby. They loiter around the corridor quite often, as there are quite a lot of people in that flat.
4. On a related note, there needs to be stronger enforcement against home owners who rent out their homes as temporary accommodation to overseas visitors.
Currently, HDB and URA regulations dictate that renting a whole unit or individual room is only allowed for long-term stays of 6 months or more. This is a long- standing rule that applies to both private property and HDB housing . However, judging by the number of rentals still available online, this generally seems to be enforced only when people complain. In the meantime, many residents have to endure the ill effects. I have residents complaining to me about tourists on their floor, moving luggage in and out at odd hours of the day, disturbing their rest.
5. I would like to ask, what is the Government’s stand on such short-term rentals? Instead of having this “one eye open one eye closed” policy, we should state our stance clearly, and take enforcement action immediately. Why wait until there are complaints before you take action? What I understand is that there are about 6000 listings online.
6. This is a rising trend. But we need to look into how to balance the two. Some countries have designated certain apartment buildings for rental to foreigners. This way, locals know of the policy before they decide whether to buy that apartment. In Japan, hosts have to obey local laws set by Japan’s Hotel Business Act which governs overnight stays. Just like these countries, we should look deeper into alternative ways to deal with this new trend. Meanwhile, I think everybody should stick to the law and I hope that the relevant agency will take action.
7. Next, moving on to structural issues, I would like to suggest extending this Planning Bill to include two things:
8. On another point, I also wish this Bill could give more assistance to those who live in landed property and have difficulty obtaining access to do up their house, for example plastering their external walls. All of us know that it is a good practice to plaster the external walls, so that there is no water seepage. But I have seen cases from time to time, of residents that have problems gaining access because of their neighbour’s objections. When they go to URA and BCA, no one can help them. I hope with this planning amendment, we can look into cases like this.
9. Please allow me to summarise in Chinese. 家，应该是每个人的避风港，但是有时候邻居的租户，会大大影响住户的安宁。这次修法规定私人住宅最多可住6名租客，将能改善一些人的问题。但是，目前，四房式或更大的组屋，最多可住9名租客。组屋租户与邻居的距离更近，政府是否该考虑，把组屋的人数顶限也降低为6人？
10. With our limited land, urban planning is crucial to maintain a good quality of life and have good quality buildings. In this age of rapid developments, it is important that we frequently review the rules and update them whenever necessary. I support the amendment. Thank you.