A cautionary property tale of joint tenancy, abuse and escaping to a safe haven.
By Khalil Adis
As I watched Incident in a Ghostland last night from the comfort and safety of my home, I cannot help but notice some parallels between the characters and myself.
This psychological horror drama thriller film tells a story of how a mom and her two daughters were ambushed in their home by murderous intruders.
One of her daughters, Beth, conjured up a dream while being physically abused by her sadistic captors in a bid to escape her trauma.
Still being held captive by the intruders, she would go on to write a bestselling book of the same title in the imaginary world that she had created.
For me, however, the abuse that my mom and I had encountered was not a work of fiction.
As a way to deal with it, I wrote a book called Property Buying for Gen Y which would then go on to become a bestseller and was a turning point in my career.
While my story is nothing like Incident in a Ghostland, the physical, psychological and emotional scars still remain until today.
History of abuse
It is hard to believe a family member that I initially grew up with can turn out to be so abusive.
My parents had divorced and as a result, we were living with our guardians.
My mom and I lived with an uncle while the other family member, was sent to live with another uncle, owing to her very difficult behaviour.
We then got a flat together in Taman Jurong where I was living my mom and this other family member when I was around 18-years-old.
I remember thinking - “Finally! We have a place to call our own.”
However, little did I know this family member would turn out to become a monster.
The first instance of abuse occurred when I was kicked out of home at 21-years-old.
I recall having my bag thrown out of the house and living temporarily at the police station where I was posted at for my national service.
Back then, I did not know any property laws and did not know any better.
I then rented a place for a while near to Admiralty MRT station.
To pay for my rent, I would give tuition.
The subsequent abuse happened in 2014 when the family member came back with her family after having lived overseas.
My mom and I were on the constant receiving end of abuse, bullying and threats to kick us out of our family home.
Mind you, I was paying for the mortgage and taking care of my mom.
Things got so bad that my mom and I had to lodge a police report and sought help from my MP Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
Thankfully, I now have my own home and a safe place for my mom and I away from the abuser.
I subsequently dedicated Property Buying for Gen Y to my MP.
Complications of joint tenancy
While you can walk away from a relationship, it is not so straightforward when it comes to property matters with a family member.
This is especially so if the property is held jointly as in the case of my mom and this family member.
Under a joint tenancy agreement, two individuals agree to jointly hold a property.
While this is the most common method of ownership as it is less costly, a joint tenancy exposes one family member to the financial risks, liabilities and other problems created by the other family member.
In my case, since moving to another country, this family member has not been paying for her mortgage since 2011.
My uncle had intervened with the agreement that I pay for the mortgage until I got my own home.
However, once I received the keys to my home, the other family member became uncontactable.
The HDB subsequently contacted us and told us this family member cannot pay for the house and wants my mom to take over the mortgage.
As a result, my mom now bears the burden.
We then decided to put up the home for rental as my mom is not working and is ill.
The rental income is now helping to cover the mortgage as well as for my mom’s savings.
We also paid the other family member her portion less expenses.
However, the constant threats from the abuser still remain.
If you are among the unlucky few who happen to own a property jointly with a toxic family member, this is what you should do.
#1: Have proper documentation
Having a problematic joint tenant will likely end up in a legal battle.
Therefore, you need to have proper documentation in case it does end up in court.
This includes whatever payments that you have been paying for the upkeep of the home, property tax and so on.
Other useful documents including emails detailing a pattern of abuse, police reports and other documents to show that the other party has not been paying their home mortgage.
Having all these documents will help bolster your case should it end up in court.
#2: Speak to a lawyer
When it comes to a joint tenancy agreement, the right of survivorship means that the other family member takes control of the whole property when the other party passes away,
This can be very problematic when you are dealing with a family member who has not been paying and is abusive.
Speak to a lawyer on what your options are so that you are fully prepared should a death occur in your family.
#3: Do not react
An abusive person needs to be in control and instigating a fight is one such way of doing so.
While it can be very difficult to not react when the other person is shouting and accusing, you need to realise that the other person is not acting rationally
By not reacting, you have taken away their power to push your buttons.
Stay cool and take the high road all the way.
#4: Minimise contact
By minimising contact with the abuser, you are ensuring your own safety and that things do not escalate out of control.
Focus only on the points concerning the house and steer clear from any arguments.
Do not get sucked into the drama.
#5: Learn to forgive
No matter what has happened, each person deserves to be happy.
When I speak about forgiveness, it is not for the other person but more for yourself.
By learning to forgive, the other person no longer holds any power on you.
I remember how empowering it was when I moved to my own home as the other family member now can no longer bully my mom and I.
You have the right to be treated with respect, to be safe and to have a wonderful life away from the abuser.
The Ministry of Social and Family Development defines violence as physical injury, direct or indirect threats, sexual assault, emotional and psychological torment, damage to property, social isolation or any behaviour which causes a person to live in fear.
My mom and I have experienced some of those forms of abuse described.
While it is hard to believe that your own flesh and blood can turn their back against you, family violence is very real.
In closing, it is my hope by sharing this cautionary tale that others in a similar situation will be spared the agony of what my mom and I have had to endure.
If you have a family member who is abusive or know a family who is being abused, do not hesitate to call the authorities. You can find out more at Break The Silence.
An independent analysis from yours truly