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BTO flats under HDB's jurisdiction, DBSS ones aren't

The DBSS project Pasir Ris One, which recently drew complaints about the poor workmanship and corridors that are 1.2m wide, the minimum allowed by the Singapore Civil Defence Force.


THE Ministry of National Development on Monday made clear the distinctions between build-to-order (BTO) flats and Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flats.

While HDB is responsible for rectifying defects in BTO flats, flaws in DBSS projects are handled by their respective private developers. That said, HDB does help DBSS developers to resolve matters, even though the housing agency is not involved in the sales agreement.

This explanation was given in response to concerns voiced in parliament about defects and the poor quality of new flats; most recently, buyers of units in the DBSS project Pasir Ris One had complained about the poor workmanship and too-narrow corridors.

In drawing the differences in roles between both HDB and private developers, Minister of State for National Development Desmond Lee said: "HDB sets the buyer's eligibility requirements and provides broad planning parameters such as the mix of flat sizes and the range of social and community facilities to be provided.

"Within this framework, the private developer of the DBSS project is responsible for the design, pricing and construction quality of the flat. Prospective buyers, in turn, decide whether the price set by the developer is acceptable for the design and furnishings provided."

To illustrate how HDB intervenes when problems crop up in DBSS flats, Mr Lee cited the example of Trivelis in Clementi, which recently drew complaints about defective stove knobs, rusty dish racks and poor-quality laminate flooring.

HDB had followed up with the developer and worked with the advisor to ensure a resolution between the developer and the residents. This led to a goodwill package offered by the developer EL Development, which is now being negotiated.

However, he added: "We do have zero tolerance for defects which compromise structural or safety standards, or which deviate significantly from what has been promised to buyers."

Mr Lee said upstream, HDB also engages with DBSS developers to share its building experience and lessons learned from previous DBSS projects, and to give feedback in the areas of safety, security, durability and ease of maintenance.

He also gave assurance that the quality of build-to-order (BTO) flats has not been compromised, despite a significant ramp-up in its building programme over the last four years.

Giving statistics on BTO flat complaints, he said an average of a third of all new residents approach the Building Service Centre (BSC) regarding defects after collecting their keys.

A quarter of these relate to issues such as paint stains and low water pressure, the latter a result of HDB's compliance with water-saving measures; the rest relate to other defects - mostly surface imperfections such as hairline cracks on walls, scratches on timber floors or uneven tile joints.

"The number of defects reported has not changed significantly. Such imperfections are mostly within acceptable industry norms and these are also common in private developments. They can and should be rectified quickly by the contractors, and do not affect the structural integrity or safety of the building," he said.

He added that the Building & Construction Authority (BCA) has an independent industry standard to measure the quality of building projects; between 2003 and 2014, the quality of BTO flats improved significantly.

"It continues to rise and is comparable to that in private developments," Mr Lee said.

The DBSS scheme was launched in 2005 to offer higher-income flat-buyers better-quality homes than BTO flats. The scheme was suspended in 2011 after a public outcry over high indicative price tags for the units at Centrale 8 in Tampines.

Pasir Ris One was the last of 13 DBSS projects offered.

Mr Lee said on Monday said that there was no need to rush in deciding whether to abolish the scheme: "We should take time to consider this and review this, as market conditions could be different and there may well be reasons to bring back the DBSS scheme in some form."

Asked by a backbencher whether he considered the scheme a failure, Mr Lee replied: "Not to trivialise the defects and concerns that first-time home-buyers in particular feel when they see scratches or paint marks on their units or more serious defects, but I think you shouldn't use these current few points that have been in the public eye to condemn the entire scheme as a failure.

"Many people have indeed lived and made homes with their families in these projects."