Couple occupies state land the size of HDB maisonette for 15 years, gets fined $7,000

6 min read

For nearly 15 years, a couple had illegally occupied 144.2 square meters of state land—the size of a HDB executive maisonette flat—by annexing it as part of their existing three-storey landed property until the law finally caught up with them.

Tan Teck Siong and his wife Cheah Mee Poh had bought the 999-year leasehold land, located at the end of Jalan Tari Zapin near Seletar, in 2001 to build a three-storey bungalow as a gift for Tan’s parents.

Between 2002 and 2004, the couple had obtained the official approvals required to build the house. Tan, an architect, also named himself the Qualified Person (QP) for the project, meaning that he was responsible for ensuring that works at the house are carried out in line with building regulations.

In receiving a $4,000 and $3,000 fine respectively for their offences, Tan and Cheah also became the first people in Singapore to be prosecuted and sentenced for trespassing on state land under the State Lands Encroachments Act.

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

House originally had no vehicular access

When carrying out the building works for the three-storey bungalow in 2015, Tan had wilfully decided to deviate from the approved plans as the QP for the project. The couple annexed a parcel of state land adjacent to the land they owned, and proceeded to build a main gate, entrance driveway, two boundary walls and a fence as part of the bungalow. Part of the bungalow’s swimming pool also encroached onto state land.

Before the encroachment occured, the land that Tan and Cheah bought was not accessible to vehicles because the site only about one metre of road frontage along Jalan Tari Zapin, which was insufficient for a car to pass through.

Additionally, the court heard that when the couple bought the house, an old gate was already in place. While Defence Counsel Mahesh Rai argued that the couple merely “refurbished or replaced” old structures when they bought the property, District Judge Clement Tan acknowledged the old gate’s existence but said that this did not legitimise the encroachment.

“What is clear and undisputed is that Tan and Cheah had erected a new entrance gate to the property which effectively cut off any public access, thereby ‘privatising’ the driveway which is actually part of state land,” the judge said.

state land encroachment landed property
The house before and after the encroachments were removed and state land restored. The driveway that Tan and Cheah built remains, and the house no longer has vehicular access. Images: Google

 

House left vacant after construction

Although originally built as a gift for Tan’s parents, the court heard that the property was eventually left vacant when Tan’s father died soon after construction was completed and the house was deemed too big for Tan’s mother to live alone.

Nevertheless, Tan and Cheah, who are now in their 60s, did not put up the property for sale, nor did they move in.

Then, in 2013, the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) discovered the encroachment while inspecting the site for a PUB drainage improvement project. The drainage project was intended to reduce the area’s flood risk.

The authorities took the diplomatic approach at first, sending a letter to the couple to ask for the removal of the structures that encroached onto state land.

However, the couple did not accede to official requests. They argued and claimed that they could not reposition the gate, as it would block the only vehicular access to the property. They were also reluctant to hack the swimming pool wall.

Following that, the authorities met the couple and exchanged further correspondence, but the couple did not comply.

 

Jalan Tari Zapin encroachment outline
The 144.2 sq m encroachment (shown in red) ‘enlarged’ the land area of the couple’s 546.6 sq m property (in green) by 26%. Image: Google

 

PUB incurred additional $24,000 in costs because of the encroachment

During the impasse, PUB started work on the drainage inprovement project, but could not upgrade a 95-metre length of drain that directly bordered Tan and Cheah’s property. Because of the obstruction, PUB also spent $24,000 on temporary flooding measures.

Finally, in June 2019, the SLA issued a letter of demand to the couple to remove the encroaching structures. The owners eventually agreed to comply.

Then, in December 2019, the couple were issued summonses for trespassing on state land.

Tan and Cheah pleaded guilty to the charges. Under the law, anyone convicted under the State Lands Encroachments Act can be sentenced to a fine of up to $5,000 or jail of up to six months, or both.

For making a false declaration to the Commissioner of Building Control, Tan could’ve been sentenced to a fine of up to $10,000 or jail of up to six months, or both.

pub drainage project
The state land encroachment cost taxpayers’ money as PUB had to undertake additional works for its drainage improvement project (red line). The location of Tan and Cheah’s property is circled in blue. Map: OneMap/PUB

 

Offences did not warrant jail term, says Judge

Despite having encroached on state land the area of a HDB executive maisonette for nearly 15 years, Tan and Cheah escaped jail terms. Prosecutors had initially sought a $5,000 fine each.

Although the couple had exclusive access to the state land during that period, Judge Tan stated that he believed that the level of harm caused by the encroachments and the couple’s level of culpability to be moderate.

The judge also stated that a jail term was not warranted, as there was no damage to the land and there were no reports of flooding during this time. He sentenced Tan to a heftier fine because he believed that, as an architect and Qualified Person, he is more culpable than his wife.

The judge also felt that Tan’s conduct in making the false declaration, and believing that the odds of being found out were low, was “exploitative” rather than malicious or nefarious.

“In fact, Tan’s gamble would have paid off had PUB not embarked on its drainage upgrading project,” the judge noted.

The combined $7,000 fine for encroaching on state land for 15 years equates to about $38.90 per month of encroachment.

According to SLA, a Temporary Occupation Licence (TOL) for the legitimate rental of state land for a condo showflat starts from $7.70 per square meter per month. So an area equal to the size of Tan and Cheah’s encroachment would cost $1,110 per month.

 

Should the couple be given jail terms for occupying state land? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

If you liked this article, check out Property agents can now be fined without a disciplinary hearing, says the Government and Homegrown condo developers are snapping up old landed properties. Here’s why

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Reader Interactions

Comments

    • Pamela

      Cheap price to pay for the space for 15 years

      • Jon kim

        Judgement is too lenient for husband who is a qualified architect. He blatantly know he is stealing state land. He is a THIEF and should be purnished more severely.

        • Tom

          Yes. He is the real Ali baba

      • Tom

        I don’t know how his parents brought him up! I m poor but I don’t cheat to succeed or profit. Imagine this arsehole how he nurture his children. If I got a father like this I will spat at him! It’s so shameless !!!

    • Alan

      A master of thief in disguise and gradually take advantage of the government thinking the govt is a great sucker and can easily fooled them.
      They should serve 10 years imprisonment for cheating the govt for so long. A thief in the supermarket will get 7years imprisonment. Case is closed

    • Erh Guek Ngo

      If he is an architect $ is nothing to him. Jail is good for him as he coveted the stateland out of his abundance

    • Chiapohkem

      Yes,as a professional so not take advantage for his own gain but should act according to the law & practice it.

    • Eugene chow

      Oh.. actually I dun mind paying 7k for the length of 15 years. Good deal. A rental 1 room flat cost more than that

    • Lum Hon Chew

      The owner is a qualified Architect and should be held more culpable for this Offence. Unlike a layman, he is fully aware of the seriousness for trespassing onto State Land. He cheated and made false declaration as a Qualified Person to benefit himself. The mere fine of $7K is a mosquito bite to him. This send the wrong signal to public that trespassing onto State property is taken lightly.

      There seems to be a systemic oversight by the various government agencies URA, LTA and SLA in carrying out their duties.
      How did the owner obtain planning permission for reconstruction when the site does not have sufficient road frontage? Why didn’t URA impose the condition to amalgamate this land to the owner and make him pay the market rate for the land? Isn’t LTA suppose to maintain public roads? SLA who is the custodian of government land seems to fail in their duty as this trespassing is discovered 15 years later.

    • Tom

      Cheap fine for this rich arsehole! What is 7k for a man that can build a bungalow? The government should give him a big angpow! Best sent him to jail. This rich unscrupulous person deserve harsher penalty. But we all know living in Singapore….. They are untouchable!

    • Alan

      Why charge only $38.90 per month of encroachment? Justify?
      So much time and effort wasted to proof it.
      Wasted tax payer money.
      .

    • Jocelyn

      Yes, $7k is peanut to a qualified architect. Deserves heavier fine.

    • DC

      Why are we tax payers paying for their selfishness? Did the judge put this point into consideration? Or is it because it’s taxpayers money it is meant to be squandered so no issue? If it is not that way, shouldn’t the couple pay for the additional 24k that was paid unnecessarily? Is the judge giving signal, that what they did is perfectly fine, the punishment for such act will be minor. Shouldn’t they be charged the cost of the land based on market price of a landed property for the 15 years? Is this fairness for the rich?

    • Josh

      He should pay for the extra $24000 PUB incurred.

    • Mike

      I don’t think as for this matter which did not inconvenience anyone or cause any environmental issues deserves a jail term furthermore incurring additional tax payers money to feed & shelter an already well to do person.
      Fine is good enough.
      There are more harsh crimes that deserve jail-terms.

    • L.Ong

      It should be a heavier fine. $7,000 is too lenient as he was aware that it was illegal. PUB should pass the $24,000 cost to them.

    • WWSH

      Kelong! He should be made to pay for 24k too! Def have connection, otherwise sure heavy fine and jail term. Another Liew case

    • LewisK

      7 years only a slap on the wrist..?!

    • K

      The judgement giving a very wrong message to the public. ‘If you’re rich, cheating government is ok, after all the consequences are just fine some money’!

    • Paige

      Jail term is not warranted but certainly $7000 fine is too light a penalty for the rich couple. Since PUB incurred additional $24,000 for the flood management expenses, the court should have added this amount in addition to their fine. An another $10,000 for the hassle involved. Judging by their affordability of not occupying the property, they can very well afford the fine. Then, the authorities can thank them for their contribution towards nation-building afterwards.

    • Sam Victor

      The Rich get away with what ever they do because of who they are and who they know.
      Justice is truly blind.

    • Simon

      PUB incurred additional $24,000 in costs because of the encroachment but the couple is only fined 7k for the 15yrs encroachment? Gov scholars math capability is so poor?

    • Jasmine Mrs Tan

      The gate improves the security of the area, which from the picture looks like forest and slopes.
      At least no land slide due to poor drainage.
      Also no public access, reduce the soil erosion. Picture not so clear. Probably pwd/pub also need to look at preventing landslide and eventually close up the area to public access because of the forested terrain and narrow strip. Good to have a buffer from the forests. Also public injury and accidents not preventable. Just imagine 1 m wide only, walking along corridor, mosquitoes on the other side. Can consider selling that strip to the owner to upkeep, also improves house safety.

    • Mel Chng

      LAW only punished the ordinary ppl not the riches?! There is no flood during the wrongful occupying of the land becos PUB spent $24k on temp flooding measure?! Police better investigate whether the culprit owner Tan and Judge Tan are related or not??? After completed construction, owner’s father passed away . The case also tell you : Dont do bad deed even you are super rich. Karma will get you?!

    • Ta

      1) I think he should pay Compensation / fine to the authorities as he wasted Taxpayers’ money, but don’t need to jail him. But he should at least pay what taxpayers lost.

      2) The SLA, URA and PUB also need to look at their own processes! Ask themselves what could have been done earlier to mitigate the loss.

    • 大眼妹

      A 7k fine is not able to cover the lost of 24k in lost of encroaching (BY PUB).

    • Zmai

      None of them, look at the road… the price to replace Road/Path?

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