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Covid-19 'circuit breaker': Some homeowners in a bind over unfinished renovation works

SINGAPORE — Taxi driver Tony Foo, 36, was coming to terms with the decline in his income over recent weeks when another problem arose. Renovations for the resale flat he was planning to move into were suddenly halted on Tuesday (April 7) when the circuit breaker measures came into full effect.

Mr Tony Foo’s unfinished flat which he planned to move into by April 30. All renovation works in Singapore had to stop on April 7 as part of the Government's 'circuit breaker' measures. Extension till April 9 would be granted for essential works, which can include toilet upgrading and electrical works.

Mr Tony Foo’s unfinished flat which he planned to move into by April 30. All renovation works in Singapore had to stop on April 7 as part of the Government's 'circuit breaker' measures. Extension till April 9 would be granted for essential works, which can include toilet upgrading and electrical works.

SINGAPORE — Taxi driver Tony Foo, 36, was coming to terms with the decline in his income over recent weeks when another problem arose. Renovations for the resale flat he was planning to move into were suddenly halted on Tuesday (April 7) when the circuit breaker measures came into full effect.

With the buyers of his current home refusing to delay their April 30 move-in date, Mr Foo would have to turn to hotel rooms when the time comes.

While responding on Tuesday to clarifications of the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Bill, which was passed by Parliament in a single sitting day, Minister of Law K Shanmugam addressed the concerns of those in similar positions to Mr Foo.

“For those whose flats are undergoing transactions, the buyer and seller will have to discuss new dates,” he said.

Mr Shanmugam also added that the Housing and Development Board (HDB) will not issue any new renovation permits between April 7 and May 4, which is the duration of the circuit breaker period.

The HDB will also only allow ongoing renovation works to be completed if they involve “essential works” and will “only take a few days”, he said. This is to allow those with no other housing options in this situation to have a “liveable” space, he added.

In response to TODAY's queries, an HDB spokesperson said that essential works can include toilet upgrading and electrical works. Should the brief extension be allowed, contractors must ensure that safe distancing measures are in place and all works must cease by Thursday.

For extensive ongoing renovations which cannot be completed by Thursday, HDB advises flat owners to delay their renovation works until the circuit breaker measures are lifted, the spokesperson said. 

Those who had planned to move out of their existing flats and into their next flats can arrange with the buyers for a temporary extension of stay for up to three months after the resale completion. “This is a private arrangement between the buyer and the seller, and the application must be submitted to HDB,” the spokesperson added.

Mr Foo told TODAY that he reached out to HDB on Monday for help, and was initially told that nothing can be done unless he and the buyers come to a mutual agreement. In view of Mr Shanmugam's announcement, he was offered the extension till Thursday.

But he said the extension would have been unhelpful to him. “Most of the workers from my contractor’s company returned to Malaysia on Saturday and Sunday. Even if I (had) wanted to extend the renovations, there’s no one left to do the work," he said.

Mr Richard Yea, 43, chief executive officer of interior design company Design 4 Space, said that most of his workers also rushed back home over the weekend. He has had a shortage of workers and a lack of supplies ever since Malaysia’s restricted movement order took effect on March 18.

Mr Wayne Chuan, 35, owner of interior design company The Local INN.terior, was supposed to hand over a completed home to his clients on Tuesday, but similar disruptions caused delays.

“My workers who were supposed to finish up last-minute things on Monday went back home. I could have applied for an extension but I have no workers so what can I do?”

“My client’s wife could give birth at any moment and now they can’t move into the house. They also have to give up the place they’re renting soon because new tenants have already signed the lease. They’re stuck but so am I,” he said.

Due to the circuit breaker measures, over a hundred of Mr Yea’s projects had to be abandoned halfway and while the completion for “essential works” is allowed, he is unsure of what that constitutes.

“While a lot of my clients have moved into halfway renovated homes, some of them are only facing smaller issues. One of my clients said he had issues with his water heater,” Mr Yea said.

“I applied for an extension to fix it with HDB but it will take some time to be approved. It's so troublesome how we have to wait for two to three days to get approval to even fix such small things,” he said, adding that by the time his request would be approved, it would be past the April 9 end date.

Another homeowner caught in a bind is Mr Woo, who declined to give his full name.

With his kitchen and basins yet to be installed, he will soon be living without what he considers to be "essentials". The electrical wiring in his house is also unfinished, with live wires, though taped up, dangling everywhere, he said.

His family of four has been staying with a friend since early March while their home has been undergoing renovations but Mr Woo has started tidying up his uncompleted home, which is in a “big mess”, to move back in within the next few days.

“Our friends have already helped us and we can't expect to overstay for too long. Right now there doesn’t seem to be an end to this,” said Mr Woo.

“Even if I applied for the extension with HDB (for essential works), how can an extra (three) days help with a renovation? If you’re at the end stages, then maybe it will help but those like me who just started or are only midway through have a big problem,” he said.

“We have to make do with whatever facilities we have. We have to eat out until things return back to normal.”

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