Condo cheapos shamed

Snippet from the New Paper :-

Thu, Apr 01, 2010

NAME and shame – and do so with a method more associated with loan sharks.

One condominium seems to have taken a leaf from their infamous 'Owe$Pay$' strategy by putting up the names of residents who are behind in their maintenance fees.

The Castle Green Condominium management committee (MC) has been pasting lists of residents' names on notice boards next to letterboxes and in lifts at the blocks where they live.

The lists, put up this month, also showed the amounts they owed.

The New Paper counted 36 names. The sums owed ranged from just over $1,000 to nearly $10,000.

Collectively, they owe nearly $70,000.

The maintenance fee for each unit in the 664-unit condo along Yio Chu Kang Road is about $700 every quarter. Owners of bigger units pay more.

The charges are collected every three months.

Next to each list was a notice warning that legal action may be taken against the those who fail to pay their fees.

The Castle Green MC, made up of elected residents, declined to comment. But a managing agent for another condo said that 'shame lists' are effective in making errant residents pay up.

The move has upset some residents at Castle Green – including those not on the list. They feel the MC is being overzealous.

The New Paper spoke to several of those who were named on the lists.

All of them said they had not received any calls or messages from the MC before they were named.

One of them, a resident in his 40s, said the MC's actions were 'high-handed'.

'It's not like we owe them for free – we do pay them interest (on the amount owed) and it's above market rate. If you put the money in a bank, I don't think you get that kind of interest,' he said.

The interest for overdue fees is 10 per cent a year.

He said he was in arrears for three quarters, or nine months. The reason, he claimed, was because he had a huge backlog of letters to deal with.

'I was engaged in other things,' he said. 'This was not my priority, but anyway I pay them interest. So what's the big deal?'

Another debtor, who declined to be named, said his failure to pay for two quarters was the result of a problem with his cheque.

'It's not right – they should constantly give us reminders, or they should call,' he said.

He said he hadn't seen the notices.

There were separate lists at each residential block, carrying the names of those in that particular block who were in arrears.

The complete list of debtors was stuck on a notice board near the condo's clubhouse.

Mr Kesavan Subramaniam, 42, a businessman, said he was unaware that his name was on the list.

He said he had bought the Castle Green apartment – his first condo purchase – a few months ago as an investment. He lives in an HDB flat and rents out his condo unit.

As a new owner, he said he was unsure about what he was supposed to do.

'They should ask for my permission first,' he said. 'If they send letters, and call me, and I say I don't want to pay them ' then okay.

'But it was only last month when they sent me a reminder letter to pay up.'

Even former owners were named.

One of them, a businesswoman, said she had used her apartment to house visiting pastors for her church, but sold it in January.

'I have so many condos,' she said. 'I'm not the one who settles the bills. My staff do it for me.'

'To tell you the truth, I don't even know my unit number.'

She insisted that she had 'settled everything' before she sold the apartment.

Another of those named is a woman in her 40s, who claimed she had never lived in the condominium.

It is co-owned with her ex-husband.

When they divorced 10 years ago, she said they had agreed that he would continue to make all the payments for the unit.

They had not sold it at that time as home prices were below what they had paid for the apartment.

'It's unfair that I am the one being blamed when he's the one who's not paying,' she said.

When told that her name was on the list, she said she was more upset with her ex-husband than with the condominium MC.

Indeed, she didn't see anything wrong with name-and-shame tactics.

'If they really didn't pay up, it's okay,' she said.

Short of cash

Her ex-husband said he did not pay up because he was short of money.

'There are so many things to pay,' he said. 'I settle the important ones, such the car loan and housing loan, first.'

Does the MC have the right to put up the notices?

Lawyer Bryan Tan said there is an issue only if they get the facts wrong.

'If, through an administrative error, the person paid and the system didn't capture the fact and you name the person, you would be defaming him or her,' he said.

He said it is a good idea to send out a reminder letter to give the person concerned a chance to say if he had already paid.

This would cut down the chance of this error.

The New Paper understands that the yearly expenditure for the condo is more than $1 million.

It has a large swimming pool and club house, as well as badminton, squash and tennis courts.

Some residents who were not on the list sympathised with those who had been shamed.

Embarrassing

One of them, a retiree in his 60s, said: 'What's the difference between this and the way the loansharks embarrass their debtors? It's the same – owe money, pay money.

'Only here, they don't splash paint.'

Another resident, in her 50s, who declined to be named, felt that this was an intrusion of privacy.

'It's not nice to write about people like that. It's not fair because you do not know the situation they may be in.'

She felt that those in the MC should have been more civil.

'Don't behave like loansharks. Sit down with these people. Find out why they aren't paying the charges. Maybe they can pay little by little.

'Let's solve the problem together, see what you can do to get the amount down,' she said.

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