Singapore

Architect and wife first to be fined for trespass on state land

They unlawfully occupied 144 sq m of state land by building parts of Seletar house on enclosed area

For close to 15 years, an architect and his wife unlawfully occupied 144.2 sq m of state land next to their three-storey house in Seletar that was built in 2005 but had been left vacant since.

The main gate, entrance driveway, two boundary walls and a fence of the house effectively annexed the parcel of state land - which is larger than a five-room Housing Board flat - as part of the couple's property. Part of the swimming pool also jutted out onto the enclosed land.

The encroachments were discovered in 2013 when national water agency PUB implemented a drainage improvement project to alleviate flooding in the area.

Tan Teck Siong and his wife Cheah Mee Poh - the first people to be prosecuted for trespassing under the State Lands Encroachments Act - were fined $4,000 and $3,000, respectively.

The offence carries a maximum fine of $5,000 or a jail term of up to six months, or both.

Tan was fined another $5,000 under the Building Control Act for making false declarations in December 2005 that the building works did not deviate from their approved plans.

According to a written judgment published last week, Tan, 62, and Cheah, 60, have owned a plot of land in Jalan Tari Zapin, a 999-year leasehold property with an area of 546.6 sq m, since 2001. They had planned to build a house on the land as a gift for Tan's parents.

RESPONSIBLE

The couple obtained the requisite approvals to build the house, and Tan was named as the qualified person responsible in ensuring works were carried out in line with regulations.

The house was left vacant as Tan's father died soon after construction was completed in 2005.

In 2013, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA), while inspecting the site for the PUB project, discovered the encroachments.

The authorities wrote to the couple asking for the encroachments to be removed.

The couple claimed they could not reposition the gate as it would block the only vehicular access to the property, among other things.

Meetings were held and correspondence exchanged, but none of the proposed solutions resolved the impasse. In the meantime, PUB began its work but did not upgrade 95m of the drain bordering the property.

It incurred about $24,000 in costs to come up with temporary flooding measures.

The matter went cold until June 2019 when SLA issued a demand to the owners, who eventually agreed to remove the encroachments.

Tan and Cheah were sentenced last month after pleading guilty to the charges.

COURT & CRIME