Posted on: Oct 17, 2008
Source: The New Paper, 10th October 2008
It looked like a happy gathering of friends of different nationalities.
Countries like Nepal, China, Myanmar, the Philippines, India and Sri Lanka - they were all well-represented:
- Adelfa Abregana of the Philippines
- Mr Zaw Bo from Myanmar
- China national Michael Lu
- and Mr Thaw Lin Tun of Myanmar
Except that the atmosphere was tense and far from pleasant.
These eight groups of people from six countries had united for a common cause - to find some form of redress against a rogue landlord.
Some were individuals while others were families or friends who had arranged to rent a place together.
The New Paper met some of these tenants on Monday night, after hearing about their encounters with the same landlord. Each had paid $1,800 to $3,600 to rent a five-room flat in Eunos last month.
The landlord had put his place up for rent in a newspaper advertisement over several days last month.
After accepting the prospective tenants' rents and deposits, he then turns off his handphone and vanishes.
He has four different handphone numbers, and all four were not in use when The New Paper tried to call him yesterday.
In all, this landlord has pocketed over $15,000 in rents for his flat.
He has since changed the padlocks to his flat, which has been left empty.
Electronic engineer Zaw Bo, who is from Myanmar, said he paid $3,400 to the landlord last month. He said the landlord disappeared almost immediately after getting the money.
Mr Bo had rented the whole flat together with his wife, brother and sister-in-law.
He said: 'I was in the flat with the landlord and he passed me a bunch of keys. Then he left after taking my money. I tried all the keys and realised that one of the rooms' door couldn't be unlocked.
'I called him (the landlord) and his handphone was already switched off. And that was just 10 minutes after I saw him.'
On the same day, he met Chinese national Michael Lu outside the unit.
Mr Lu had also gone there hoping to find the landlord. He said that he, too, had been cheated of his money.
Mr Bo, 51, returned the next day - and found four groups of tenants waiting outside the unit, all with similar stories to tell.
All said they had been told by the landlord to move in that day. Most of them had their luggage with them.
Mr Bo said: 'I was shocked to see more people caught in the same situation. Some of the girls were crying because it was their hard-earned money and they lost their savings. And they had no place to sleep.'
Mr Bo, who has worked here since 2002, said he has not found a replacement unit yet. The lease on his current place will expire at the end of this month.
He added: 'This is not the first time I've been cheated this way. I lost about $1,000 three years ago to another landlord who disappeared on me. It's just my luck.'
He posted a notice outside the flat, warning other tenants to contact him. Three more groups of people did so.
Mr Bo said he made a police report about the situation. The police confirmed the report and said that investigations are ongoing.
Mr Lu felt certain he had done due checks before paying the $1,800 deposit for the flat last month.
He said, fuming: 'I wanted to make doubly sure that I won't be taken for a ride. I am an auditor. It's my job to be careful and I was. Even with all my checks, I still got cheated!'
Mr Lu, 27, had asked the landlord for a photocopy of his identity card (IC) and he also saw a HDB letter which proved that he owns the unit.
After paying the deposit, Mr Yu went one step further and asked his friend to call the landlord to check if the unit was still up for rent after he paid the deposit.
The landlord then told his friend that the unit was already taken. That reassured Mr Yu somewhat, until he tried calling the landlord a few days later, but could not contact him.
'That was when I knew that I had been cheated,' he said.
Mr Yu, who has worked here for about a year, is still looking for a replacement unit.
He said: 'I am very thorough and I expected things to run smoothly. It's disappointing considering Singapore's reputation. I thought all Singaporeans are very law-abiding.
'It's not a big amount of money and I didn't think anyone here will risk going to jail for this kind of money. I was wrong.'
The New Paper