Poultry-rearing controversy: HDB has rights to impose rules as “landlords”, according to NParks, confirming HDB “owners” are tenants?

The Housing and Development Board (HDB) has the right to impose rules against HDB owners who rear poultry in their flats without prior written consent, said National Parks Board (NParks).

NParks told TODAY in response to queries regarding the case of one of Singapore’s leading chicken rearers Eric Woo that HDB owners “are also subject to rules of their landlord, which may or may not allow the keeping of poultry within their managed areas”.

Mr Woo, a 48-year-old private science tutor, was forced to relocate five of his chickens after HDB officers informed him that poultry rearing in HDB flats, even for hobbyist purposes, is not permitted. The officers had reportedly received a tip-off regarding Mr Woo’s activities, according to TODAY.

However, Mr Woo told TODAY that he has “looked high, low, sideways”, and still did “not find the HDB regulation that states non-commercial poultry keeping is not allowed”, adding that two of his friends who had received the same warning came to a similar conclusion.

While Mr Woo said he had noted that NParks stated on its website’s “Information on Bird Flu” page poultry-keeping is illegal in HDB flats, he also cited the Animals and Birds Act, which states that individuals may keep up to 10 birds “in any premises”.

“Since when does NParks have jurisdiction over HDB?” He questioned.

Responding to Mr Woo’s claims regarding not being able to find explicit rules that prohibit the keeping of poultry in HDB flats, HDB told today that it has “a 10-page memorandum of lease document that every homeowner has to sign under the Land Titles Act, which has a clause stating that a lessee cannot keep any animal, bird, fish or insect without HDB’s written consent”.

However, HDB has in recent years allowed the keeping of small pets, such as small dogs, fishes and rabbits in HDB flats.

Nonetheless, NParks’ confirmation that HDB is the “landlord” while HDB “owners” are in fact tenants who are subjected to the rules of their landlord, supports what licensed real estate agent with International Property Advisor Pte Ltd and co-founder of HugProperty.com, Mr Ku Swee Yong, said back in 2018 about the notions and preconceptions regarding ownership of residential property in Singapore, particularly that of HDB flats.

Mr Ku had argued that it would be more beneficial for Singaporeans to “acknowledge that HDB flat buyers are lessees, not owners”, and that it would be more apt and accurate to change the usual terms to describe HDB flats – that is, from “buy”, “sell” and “owner”, to “lease”, “transfer lease” and “tenant”.

To illustrate his point, he said that many Singaporeans tend to base their residential property investment on the perception that their HDB flat is “an asset whose value must appreciate”.

He argued that such a move is “not necessarily the wisest decision with a rapidly ageing population, where an increasing number of deaths of baby boomers will add significant supply of old resale flats to the market”.

He suggested that the perception is further bolstered by the government’s act of perpetuating “this narrative of home ownership, when in fact those who pay for a new HDB flat are lessees for its 99-year term” through “websites and official publications”.

Following Mr Ku’s comments, Minister for National Development Mr Lawrence Wong rejected his claims that HDB flat buyers are not owners but are “tenants” in practice during his speech at the HDB’s Peak Forum for property experts at HDB Hub.

Minister Wong said that such a claim is “factually and legally wrong”, as the same principle of ownership throughout the stipulated period of lease applies to all buyers of leasehold residential property, regardless whether the property is private or public.