After 5-year dispute, buyer gets to move into flat as sellers go to jail
Sellers jailed for contempt of court after refusing to vacate flat sold to woman despite court orders
Her five-year nightmare in a tussle with the sellers of an HDB flat is finally over.
Madam Herni Fadhillah Saad can now look forward to moving into her own home with her two children.
But only after the Supreme Court yesterday sentenced the former owners to be jailed for contempt of court until further notice.
Madam Herni's lawyer, Mr Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Yakub, had applied to the court to have the couple jailed so that he could arrange for the three-room flat to be vacated and allow his client to move in.
The flat in Bedok South Road had been an issue of contention since 2010 when Madam Herni agreed to buy it from Mr Lim Teck Choon and his wife Tan Poh Lee.
But a dispute over the transaction arose, sending both parties to court.
Even after the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the sale of the flat to Madam Herni had to be completed within three months, the couple refused to budge.
Last November, the court ordered them to vacate the flat by December.
Again, they refused despite attempts by court bailiffs to evict them.
While happy with a breakthrough in the deadlock, Madam Herni, a 40-year-old mother of a boy, 15, and girl, 12, told The New Paper last night that she is not celebrating yet.
The human resource executive said: "I am not sure if there will be possible harassment after he is released from detention."
She had bought the flat in the hope of providing a conducive place for her son to study for his PSLE in 2012.
Instead, Madam Herni and her children ended up living in a cramped bedroom in her parents' four-room HDB flat as the dispute dragged on. Her sister also lives in the flat.
This year, it is her daughter's turn to take the PSLE.
In an interview with TNP last month, Madam Herni recounted how her nightmare began after she signed the option to purchase and paid a deposit of $5,000 in August 2010.
The agreed sale price was $310,000.
She had used half of the cash proceeds from the sale of her matrimonial flat after her divorce.
Court papers showed that Madam Herni failed to come up with the $32,000 for the down payment by the due date. HDB then cancelled the resale application.
Madam Herni later successfully applied for a bank loan and HDB reinstated the resale application.
But she was told Mr Lim changed his mind.
She said: "When he suddenly backed out, I was surprised. There was commotion. He locked himself in the toilet and refused to sign."
As a result of her delay in getting a loan, Mr Lim apparently had another buyer who offered a higher price for his flat, said Madam Herni.
"If you want to cancel, then return my deposit and we can move on."
Mr Lim had insisted on forfeiting the $5,000 deposit.
Madam Herni said: "We tried to settle out of court but he was always aggressive. He would bang the table and chairs.
"If it could have been solved amicably, it would not have dragged on until now."
Madam Herni was stuck in a predicament as she had already spent more than $11,000: $2,500 to her lawyer, $3,500 to the agent who wanted to be paid before the sale completion and $5,000 in deposit to Mr Lim.
She would also incur bank penalty charges if she were to cancel her loan and it would be difficult for her to get a fresh loan.
Madam Herni sued Mr Lim and his wife in October 2011.
The couple was granted legal aid and was represented by three different lawyers one after another, according to court papers. But legal aid was withdrawn early 2013.
After a Supreme Court hearing, Justice Tay Yong Kwang ordered that the sales and purchase to Madam Herni be completed within three months from Nov 7, 2013.
But the couple refused to transfer ownership to her.
Last Nov 26, the court ordered them to vacate the flat by Dec 26 when the sale was legally completed.
Again, the couple would not budge despite two attempts to execute the court order.
Mr Ibrahim initiated contempt of court proceedings against the couple and they were fined $2,000 and $500 respectively, in April this year.
But they still would not budge.
An exasperated Madam Herni noted that Mr Lim was allocated a one-room rental flat following the sale while she could not get one because she was technically the owner of the Bedok South flat.
"He had two flats while I was stuck in a room with my kids," she said.
"My son has to sleep in the living room because there are a lot of things in the bedroom.
Man wanted to raise money for medicine
When the judge sentenced Mr Lim Teck Choon, 59, to jail yesterday, he raised a ruckus.
"Make sure I die in the prison. Let Singaporeans see. I'm a cancer patient," he shouted, red-faced.
Mr Lim and his wife Tan Poh Lee had been taken to court for contempt of court after refusing to move out of a three-room HDB flat in Bedok South Road that they had sold in 2010.
A dispute over the sale had ended with the buyer, Madam Herni Fadhillah Saad, 40, suing the couple.
Even after the Supreme Court ruled in 2013 that the sale of the flat to Madam Herni had to be completed within three months, Mr Lim did not comply.
About a year later, the court ordered the couple to vacate the flat, but they again refused to comply.
In court yesterday, Madam Herni's lawyer, Mr Mohamed Ibrahim Mohamed Yakub, applied to have the couple jailed so that he could arrange for the flat to be vacated.
"He has been allocated a rental flat for five years, so he has a place to stay," he said.
"We will put his belongings in storage at his expense by when the contempt of court will be purged."
In court, Mr Lim, who was not represented by a lawyer, shouted that he had not signed the Option To Purchase agreement.
Justice Choo Han Teck warned Mr Lim that he could be removed from the court if he continued to shout.
In response, Mr Lim said: "Not because I want to shout. I'm a cancer patient."
When he continued raising his voice, the judge ordered him to leave and the court was adjourned for five minutes.
After his return, he alleged that the property agent who represented him did not have a licence and had forged his signature.
Mr Lim added that after selling his flat, he did not receive any money. He said the HDB had initially cancelled the sale because the buyer could not pay the down payment.
But Mr Ibrahim responded that an HDB officer testified in the previous court hearing before Justice Tay Yong Kwang that this was the procedure.
Mr Lim, who is unemployed, said: "Because I have no money, people can take advantage of me.
"Who sell flat don't receive money and need to move out? Don't tell me Singapore no law and justice (sic)."
His wife, who was crying, tried to hush him, saying: "Eh, you keep quiet, lah."
In an interview in June, Mr Lim said he has had nose cancer since 2000.
He said in Mandarin: "My prognosis used to be one month. They said it is a miracle I could live so long.
"I wanted to sell the flat to repay debts and raise money to buy traditional Chinese medicine."
He added that he felt bad because his friends had lent him their retirement savings for the medicine.
Mr Lim, who has two children, said he had disowned his daughter over the flat dispute. His son, a delivery driver, who is married with three children, does not live with him.
He showed this reporter documents that he had been paying $111 a month for the rental flat since it was allocated to him in 2010.
He said: "I must pay the rent for that flat. Otherwise, if I sell this flat, I'd have no place to live."
When TNP went to the Bedok South Avenue 2 rental flat, a neighbour, Mr James Tay, a 40-year-old forklift operator, said he had not seen anyone enter the unit in the four years he has lived there.
"Because I have no money, people can take advantage of me. Who sell flat don't receive money and need to move out?."
- Mr Lim Teck Choon
generally, if there is a court order and the party refuses to sign a conveyancing document, the court can authorise the registrar to sign the document, said lawyer Bernard Doray.
"It is very common and it has happened many times before. You can't hold up the transaction. You can't be disobedient," he said.
Legal aid says...
when asked why legal aid was withdrawn from Mr Lim Teck Choon, a Legal Aid Bureau spokesman said: "Due to professional conduct rules, we are unable to disclose any case-related information without written authority from the client."
But in general, the Legal Aid Board can withdraw aid under these circumstances:
l The aided person has required the proceedings to be conducted unreasonably or required unreasonably that the proceedings be continued.
l It is considered that the aided person no longer has reasonable grounds for taking, defending or being a party to the proceedings.