Illegal use of private property on the rise

The number of private homeowners illegally converting their homes into workers’ dormitories or renting them out for short-term accommodation has increased during the last three years, said the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and reported in the media.

URA said it recorded 2,500 cases of unauthorised use of private residential properties last year, up from 2,100 cases in 2013 and 1,800 in the preceding year.

The revelation came after URA confirmed that the apartment which caught fire last Friday in Geylang was used illegally as a workers’ dormitory. The fire resulted in the death of two Bangladeshi workers, while three others were injured.

The caretaker of the Geylang apartment revealed that the living room was divided into seven rooms while one of its bigger rooms was further split into two rooms.

More than 30 people were staying in the apartment, or almost four times more than the maximum of eight persons allowed by URA. The case is being investigated by the police along with the URA, Singapore Civil Defence Force and Manpower Ministry.

The Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) noted that more needs to be done to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.

In Geylang alone, URA has investigated 180 cases relating to unauthorised workers’ dormitories since December last year.

“In the past, we normally do our outreach (by) trying to generate awareness about work rights, salary issues, working conditions and the work terms, for example. From this incident, I think we will also want to do more in terms of educating our workers, the migrant workers, to understand what they should also be aware of, about their living conditions and the dormitories they are staying at, to actually be able to identify some safety hazards and if there are any problems or any doubts, they should raise it to us,” said MWC chairman Yeo Guat Kwang.

He added that employers should take on a more active role in ensuring that living conditions of migrant workers are conducive and safe.

“They can’t just say that – as long as I have already complied with the law, and I have already provided such a provision then I don’t care,” stated Yeo.

He also called on the government to have the Foreign Employment Dormitories Act cover all dormitories.

“Because unfortunately, when we pass the dormitories Act, the decision is actually to only cover those dormitories with 1,000 beds and above. I think it is important for us to have one law that covers all, and we will have a mechanism to ensure that all agencies are better coordinated to address all the issues upstream.”


Romesh Navaratnarajah, Singapore Editor at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this or other stories email