They now live like this
By Koh Hui Theng
FED up with loan sharks splashing paint at her Serangoon flat repeatedly, counsellor Sheena Jebal came up with a novel way to ward them off.
She and her next-door neighbour installed a metal gate in the common corridor near their units. They rent the space from HDB.
It's the first time residents are renting the common area because of loan shark harassment, HDB told The New Paper. Ms Jebal, 37, and her neighbours, the Roslis, have been paying HDB about $22 yearly for the space since last December.
She said she forked out $1,500 to install the metal gate along the 11 sqm common area too. The Roslis live in a corner unit on the second storey.
They said they have been harassed by loan sharks since they moved in last year; Ms Jebal in May and the Roslis in August. Both claim they have not borrowed from loan sharks.
So has the gate been effective in keeping out the Ah Longs? Yes, so far.
Ms Jebal and the Roslis said they haven't had paint splashed outside their flats since they installed the gate in December last year. But Ms Jebal added that the loan sharks have got to her in another way. Last month, they sent her a letter demanding payment, saying it was their last warning.
"If you have money to buy the flat, you have money to pay the debt," the loan shark allegedly told Ms Jebal when she first called the man.
Note in Chinese
That was last April, when her flat was being renovated. A note written in Chinese characters had been left at her door then and Ms Jebal had dialled the mobile number, thinking it belonged to a contractor.
The loan shark claimed a previous tenant owed $25,000. Ms Jebal had paid $308,000 for the four-room A model flat at the end of 2009. She had heard from her agent that the market rate was about $350,000 then.
When this reporter tried calling one of the loan sharks, this is what he said: "Sister, there's three things you can do. One, track down this guy who owes money. Two, call the police. Three, I come and paint your place."
He then hung up. But Ms Jebal was determined not to give into the intimidation.
She said: "I didn't borrow the money, so why should I pay?"
Between May and July last year, she said paint had been splashed at her flat four times. She has called the police "many times" and also asked her Member of Parliament, Mr Wee Siew Kim, for advice.
A police spokesman confirmed that they have received calls about loan shark harassment. Investigations are ongoing. Ms Jebal said there were increased police patrols around the neighbourhood. The authorities also installed four CCTV cameras along the corridor.
Still, the ongoing harassment is mental torture, even though there have not been any paint attacks or letters since August.
"It's a horrible feeling looking over your shoulder all the time and feeling that someone is monitoring your movement," Ms Jebal said.
After receiving the threatening letter, she is thinking of putting up a badminton netting over the corridor to prevent the loan sharks from throwing in any objects from outside.
Her neighbour, Mrs Sarimah Rosli, 39, added: "Whenever we come home, we're always wondering if the loan sharks will creep up behind us and do something."
Her husband, technical officer Rosli Basri, 44, said: "I'm most worried about the safety of my two youngest boys in kindergarten. What happens if the loan sharks end up hurting them?"
When contacted, an Ang Mo Kio-Yio Chu Kang Town Council spokesman said they had advised Ms Jebal to make a police report. She added that loan shark harassment cases are rare in the town council's area.
MP Wee said in an e-mail reply to The New Paper: "Although the (corridor space-renting) solution may not be applicable to all, the gated solution works well."
Since May 1993, HDB has rented corridor space out, mainly to related families living next to each other's units. Flat lessees pay a nominal sum of $2 per square metre per year.
They have to ensure their neighbours can access common facilities like the staircase and lift lobby, while firemen can reach the dry risers, a spokesman said. As of last month, HDB had 130 cases of residents jointly renting the common area.
Edited by Sgnick, 20 February 2011 - 09:35 PM.