FAMILY: WE LOST $290,000 OVER BACK LANE

FAMILY: WE LOST $290,000 OVER BACK LANE

 

When trying to sell house, owners surprised to find out Government acquired their land

 

THEY were offered close to $2 million for their two-storey shophouse and the back lane behind it.

 

By Celine Lim

 

 

18 June 2008

 

THEY were offered close to $2 million for their two-storey shophouse and the back lane behind it.

 

But while trying to retrieve an online copy of the title deed to the back lane, the Goh family found out that the tiny strip of land had been acquired by the Government in an island-wide exercise in April last year.

 

As a result, the buyer, a property developer, slashed $290,000 off the purchase price.

 

The family said they did not receive any letter informing them that the back lane had been acquired.

 

Neither did they get any compensation.

 

Ms Goh G K, 52,said: ‘If it wasn’t for the offer for our house and lane, we won’t have known the Government had taken back the lane.’

 

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) said the lane was acquired under the Street Works Act and no compensation is due for such acquisitions.

 

It said it had notified the owners by posting a copy of the declaration together with a plan at the site of the Gohs’ back lane on 27 Mar 2007.

 

But the Gohs felt the LTA should have informed them personally by sending a letter.

 

Ms Goh, her five siblings and their mother are joint owners of the property.

 

‘We didn’t want to sell the house or the lane initially due to the sentimental value as all of us grew up there,’ said Ms Goh, who’s in sales.

 

‘In the past, the door to the back lane was always open. It was our ‘backyard’, where our mum used to make bak changs (rice dumplings) and extended family gatherings were held.

 

‘But our mum said, ‘Better sell the property and distribute the proceeds’.

 

‘She had heard about family tussles over property in the news and didn’t want us to end up squabbling after she passed away.’

 

Ms Goh said her parents had bought the house and back lane for about $20,000 in 1950.

 

The 261 sq ft lane is located right behind their two-storey Rangoon Road shophouse and the unit next door. The family owns part of the back lane, stretching from behind their unit to the next door unit.

 

In March 1999, the family paid about $2,000 in legal fees, stamp duties and for a plan of the land area from the chief surveyor to renew the title deeds so as to include the names of all the siblings.

 

Before that, the title deeds had only the names of the mother and the eldest Goh sibling.

 

The family has a physical copy of the title deed to the back lane.

 

When they wanted to sell the property last October, they tried to get a copy online from the Singapore Land Authority’s (SLA) website to show the buyer.

 

They were unable to do so and realised something was amiss.

 

They called the SLA, which told them the lane had been acquired by the LTA.

 

Ms Goh said that when they called the LTA, an officer said the LTA was only required to post a notice in the government gazette as well as put up a letter of declaration at the site of the back lane to say it would be vested in the State.

 

The officer added that if no one raised any objections within a month, the LTA would take it as consent to proceed with the vesting of the lane.

 

The answer did not sit well with the Goh family.

 

‘Why didn’t the LTA inform us directly by sending us a letter? How much is the postage? Only 22 cents,’ said Ms Goh.

 

‘After all, they knew that our family had the title deed to the backlane.’

 

She said the LTA sent them a copy of the government gazette listing the back lanes that were vested during the exercise.

 

The Gohs’ back lane was on the list and the words ‘deed title’ written next to it.

 

This showed that the LTA knew her family held the title deed to the lane and should have contacted them, said Ms Goh.

 

The Gohs also insisted they did not see any letter of declaration near their back lane.

 

SEEK COMPENSATION

 

Ms Goh said: ‘We moved out about 10 years ago when everyone got married and started their own families.

 

‘But one of my brothers keeps items for his business in the house so he drops by almost every day.

 

She claimed: ‘He parks his car along the back lane and enters through the back door, but he did not see any notice pasted there.’

 

Ms Goh said the family has tried in vain to seek compensation from the LTA.

 

She said an LTA officer told them that there was ‘no commercial value to back lanes’.

 

But the Gohs pointed to a news article about a back lane off Jalan Bunga Raya in the Balestier area that was auctioned off on 10 Jan.

 

The article noted: ‘Knight Frank has indicated a price of about $750,000 to $800,000 for the back lane, which works out to $80 to $86 per square foot of potential gross floor area.’

 

A check by The New Paper found the Jalan Bunga Raya back lane eventually fetched $1.55m, or $465 per square foot.

 

In the Gohs’ case, the property developer was planning to put up a five-storey building on the site of their house and back lane.

 

The property agent told the family the developer had priced the back lane at more than $1,000 per square foot, the same as for the house.

 

Ms Goh said after they found out the back lane had been acquired by the Government, the property developer extended their option to sell in the hope that the family could work something out with the LTA.

 

The 1,660 sq ft house was finally sold for about $1.5m.

 

They didn’t want to reveal the exact amount.

 

She said the proceeds went to their mother who is in charge of disbursing the money.

 

LTA: Family won’t get compensation

 

A SPOKESMAN for LTA said the back lane was one of 206 lots vested island-wide from December 2006 to July last year under the Street Works Act.

 

A SPOKESMAN for LTA said the back lane was one of 206 lots vested island-wide from December 2006 to July last year under the Street Works Act.

 

Of the State-acquired lots, the spokesman said: ‘No compensation is payable for vesting of back lanes.’

 

The 261 sq ft lot owned by the Gohs had been set aside in 1937 as a back lane. This meant that before the Gohs bought the lane in 1950, it had become part of the Government’s ‘street reserves’.

 

The reserved land can be acquired by the State as and when it is needed for road improvement or construction, according to the LTA website.

 

The spokesman said the relevant authorities will not approve the building of any structure, like building extensions, on land that has been set aside but yet to be vested.

 

So, even if the Gohs still owned the back lane and had sold it to the property developer, the latter would not be able to build over it.

 

If a structure was built illegally, no compensation will be given for removing the structures if the land is vested. The spokesman said the back lanes were vested ‘in the interest of the public’.

 

Acquiring the back lanes ‘facilitates a more orderly and systematic maintenance. .. of these back lanes… by various public agencies’.

 

In a letter to the Gohs, the LTA said the working team had ‘exercised due diligence in the process of vesting’. The Gohs’ back lane was ‘not treated differently from the other cases’.

 

As per the Street Works Act, the LTA had posted a copy of the declaration together with a plan at the site of the Gohs’ back lane on 27 Mar 2007, said the spokesman. A month later, in the absence of any objections, the back lane was vested in the Government on 26 Apr 2007.

 

 

Source: The New Paper

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