Featured News Saga of renting a room in Singapore, especially for a Singaporean

Saga of renting a room in Singapore, especially for a Singaporean

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Sense And Nonsense by Tan Bah Bah

For the high-income expatriates, life is a piece of cake in Singapore when it comes to rental accommodation. Surprisingly, the low-income and down-and-out do not have it so bad either. The state takes care of them and helps them get out of the poverty trap, usually through steps to make sure their children have a brighter future. It is the people in between who have to struggle to survive here because of certain circumstances.

I don’t have the figures on how many people there are exactly in this category. It is also a rather loose lot because people’s lives may sometimes suddenly change for the better or worse. In 1977, 77.9 per cent of Singaporeans already stay in HDB flats. About 22.9 per cent of Singaporeans own private property, including some HDB-flat owners.

There are also Singaporeans who do not fall so neatly into these categories. I know someone whose divorce threw him into a 10-year saga of finding a roof over his head – of renting a room or renting a small flat because he did not have enough to buy a HDB flat. He certainly did not have anything like the $300,000/$400,000 expected out of BTO aspirants. Let me take you through his odyssey.

The first two things he had to do was get a storage company to take care of his belongings and then book a hotel room to stay in for one or two weeks. With little idea of what it was like to rent a room, he finally rented a room in Joo Chiat for $900 a month. That was in 2013. One year flew by. He checked his rental contract and it stated he had to give a month’s notice whether he wanted to extend or leave. He contacted the agent who said the owner was not interested in extending the contract at all and he had one week left to vacate.

My friend saw an ad saying a room in Grange Road was available but only for four months. Rent $1,400. Quite ok. Once again, time to contact the house removal people.

My friend told me he enjoyed his short stay in Lucky Tower which was later torn down. So far so good. But my friend’s horror story was about to begin. For some reason, the rental market changed quite a bit in 2015. The type of accommodation which was available, like the Joo Chiat terrace room and the Lucky Tower condo room, became a rarity.

All that was available was hostel-like places where you were squeezed into one cubicle and shared everything else with other renters – including toilets. There was no privacy.

After nine months, he could not take it anymore. A friend recommended a room in Paya Lebar Way. The landlord was an elderly man. The flat itself was clean but the room being rented out was a bit ramshackle. My friend took it because he had no choice. The dorm-like place he was staying in was about to be torn down.

The moment my friend moved into the Paya Lebar Way flat was his first step into a near-hell which he has not entirely got out of even today. He ran into a bed bug purgatory. The whole room was infested.

My friend bought cartons of bug spray cans.

He literally did not sleep properly for nine months. He dared not switch off the lights because battalions of bugs would crawl out. It took nine months of spraying and staggered laundering of his clothes to get rid of the bugs finally. My friend now has a bug phobia. He does not travel because he now believes luggage bags carry bed bugs. And he avoids the cinemas because he thinks cinema seats are bug repositories.

So anxious was he to leave Paya Lebar Way that he was ready to stretch his budget for any clean air-con room. He needed proper rest and sleep. After 10 years, he at last found one nice room in Woodlands. Distance was a slight problem and the rent a bit on the high side. But the landlord was a kind person.

After a decade.

That’s the saga one had to undergo in this “affordable” BTO land called Singapore.


Tan Bah Bah, consulting editor of TheIndependent.Sg, is a former senior leader writer with The Straits Times. He was also managing editor of a magazine publishing company.


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