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'We're in limbo': Chempaka residents uncertain about future with leases expiring in 10 years

'We're in limbo': Chempaka residents uncertain about future with leases expiring in 10 years
Home owners said they hope to get more clarity on the fate of the land after the lease runs out.
PHOTO: The Straits Times/Lim Yaohui

When Mr J.C. bought his home in Jalan Chempaka Puteh for about $400,000 in 2007, he thought he had snagged the two-storey landed property at a good deal.

The semi-detached house, which the 76-year-old retired manager said is his dream home, sits on 3,600 sq ft of land in a quiet landed estate near Simpang Bedok.

But the property’s lease is set to run out by August 2034.

“Now that there’s only 10 years left (on the lease), I realised time is running short. No one knows if there’s any possibility of extending the lease or if we will have to go,” said Mr J.C., who is not married and declined to give his full name.

His home is one of 144 terraced and semi-detached houses in Jalan Chempaka Puteh, Jalan Chempaka Kuning and Bedok Road that have a 70-year lease beginning from 1964.

The large plot of land belonged to the late Mr Koh Sek Lim, a property owner in the east who died in 1948.

Checks showed that the homes have a land tenure of estate in perpetuity, or freehold. The land is currently managed by Camelot Trustees, according to a property title information search.

The Straits Times spoke to about 20 home owners who said they want more clarity on the fate of the land after the lease runs out. They also hope to be given the option to stay on.


A business owner who wanted to be known only as Ms Aishah, 67, said she hopes the trustees would give them the option to top up for a lease extension.

“Without an answer, we’re in limbo and cannot plan ahead. For now, I’m not planning to move as I’m content here,” said Ms Aishah, who has been living in Bedok Road for 25 years.

When contacted, a Camelot Trust spokesman said it could not reveal “the specific terms and duration of our agreements, as well as the details of any wills”, due to confidentiality reasons.

But he said the lease was not directly issued by the previous trustees, and was instead originally agreed with the developer. Camelot took over the trusteeship of the estate in July 2021.

“More broadly, it is uncommon for leases to include a right to be extended beyond their stated maturity,” he said.

Mr J.C. said if he sells his home, he may not be able to buy a home of a similar size, and if he rents an apartment, it may eat into his retirement savings. He added that he is also considering applying for a two-room Housing Board flat on a short lease.

“I’ve been going back and forth between selling the house and taking my chances and staying on. If the trustees give us another 10 or 20 years, I won’t have to worry,” he said.

The Camelot Trust spokesman said that it is working to find a resolution that will provide the “best possible outcome for all parties”, and is currently considering its options.

He added that it will notify residents after consulting representatives of the beneficiaries and legal counsel.

“We are anticipating this will take several months, and until this process has been completed, we are not in a position to provide any further details,” he said.

A committee member of the Chempaka Housing Estate Residents’ Association, who declined to be named, said she had been trying to get answers from Camelot on behalf of the residents since 2022 to no avail.

“They said they would give us an answer by the end of 2023, but that didn’t happen and my e-mails went unanswered,” she added.

Resident Gloria Koh, a retired manager, wrote to East Coast GRC MP Cheryl Chan about their predicament in a letter signed by 26 residents.

Ms Chan told ST that she has made an appeal to Camelot on the residents’ behalf but has yet to receive a reply.

Ms Koh, 66, who has lived in Jalan Chempaka Puteh for about five years, said she reached out to Ms Chan in the hope that the trustees would begin discussions with residents.

But others, such as former resident Mr Eddy, 66, decided not to wait. He said he was glad he sold his 4,100 sq ft semi-detached home in Bedok Road for $800,000 in 2023.

“I decided to cash out as property prices were rising and bought a similar-sized home with a longer lease, rather than keep waiting. I don’t want to be left stranded when the lease expires,” said the regional sales director, who lived there for 21 years and declined to give his full name.

Even then, the dwindling lease has not hindered interested buyers.

One such resident who wanted to be known only as Mr Koh, 51, said he bought his Jalan Chempaka Puteh home with 13 years left on its lease in 2021 for about $750,000. He subsequently bought another property in the area for about $500,000.


“It was a calculated risk, but I thought it was worth it for its size. I see (the amount paid) as rental,” said Mr Koh, who works in tech. He lives in the first home, a 3,300 sq ft semi-detached house, with his wife, two daughters and mother-in-law, and rents out the other.

Other older residents hope to make the most out of the remaining 10 years.

Mr Soo Yok Tai, 77, who has lived in Jalan Chempaka Puteh since 1972, said he does not plan to move.

“I’ve lived here for 52 years so I’m used to this place. I hope the lease gets extended, but I’m not losing sleep over it as I want to live out my final days in peace,” said the retired photographer.

Mr J.C. put his home on the market in 2023 and received an offer, but he said it was “not comfortable enough” to cover rent and other expenses he would need to bear. He eventually rejected the offer.

“It’s a hassle to move to another place at my age. Without a concrete answer (about the lease), I just thought to myself, if I should pass on, let this be my place of rest.”

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.

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