SINGAPORE — A total of 258 Built-to-Order (BTO) flats and 168 resale flats were returned to the Housing Development Board (HDB), mostly due to changes in owner circumstances within the minimum occupation period (MOP), which rendered them ineligible to own an HDB flat.
This was shared by the Minister of National Development, Desmond Lee, on Monday (9 Jan) in his reply to Parliamentary Questions filed by Members of Parliament in regard to recent news about HDB flats being sold in the market, which apparently had not been occupied before.
Mr Lee also noted that the circumstances leading the owners to be unable to meet the MOP, include divorce or separation, the demise of an owner, medical reasons and so on.
As these owners have not fulfilled MOP. they were not allowed to sell the flats on the open market.
HDB flat owners are required to physically occupy the flat during the MOP before they are allowed to sell their flat on the open market or rent out the flat.
During the MOP, owners are not allowed to leave the flat vacant or rent out the hall flat without staying in it. This also means that owners are not allowed to rent out the hall flat under the guise of renting out only the bedrooms, for instance, by locking up one room and not actually living in it. This regulation also applies to HDB executive condominiums.
Mr Lee pointed out that all buyers of HDB flats are required to acknowledge HDB’s rules and regulations, including those relating to the MOP, at various points of the flat purchase process.
He said that MOP policy safeguards HDB flats for households with genuine housing needs.
Mr Lee said that the current five-year MOP seeks to strike a balance, on the one hand, reinforcing the objective of owner-occupation while, on the other hand, not unduly hampering those who want to move when their family life, family circumstances, or life needs change.
For flat owners who face genuine circumstances and cannot stay in their flat during the MOP, such as those who may be posted overseas for work for a period, they can write into HDB to seek a waiver of the MOP which HDB will assess such appeals on a case by case basis.
“Where appropriate, with the MOP duration longer to strengthen the owner occupation intent of public housing,” notes Mr Lee.
MOP for flats launched under the Prime Location Public Housing (PLH) is set at ten years, and rental flat tenants who get additional support under the Fresh Start housing grant to buy a new flat have to meet a 20-year MOP.
The ministry is studying the very many views solicited from Forward Singapore carefully and will continue to review the housing policies to meet the needs of Singaporeans owners who are unable to fulfill the MOP due to changes in their circumstances.
Detecting infringements and heavy penalties issued
As for detecting and investigating infringements, Mr Lee said there should be a balance between ensuring HDB rules are complied with and not overly impinging upon the privacy of the 1.1 million HDB homeowners, the vast majority of whom abide by the rules on regular inspections.
He shared that HDB conducts 500 inspections randomly each month to detect infringements of HDB rules and regulations, such as unauthorized renting out of subletting and non-occupation of flats.
“Since 2017, HDB has inspected some 35,000 homes to conduct random checks. HDB also investigates feedback received from members of the public and property agents on suspected cases of HDB rule infringements, such as flats being listed for resale in bare or so-called brand new condition.”
“Between 2017 and 2022, HDB received around 4700 pieces of feedback on potential infringements relating to HDB MOP rules. In addition, as part of the shabby resale process, HDB also conducts inspection of all HDB flats involved in the resale transactions. Flats that have been found to be in bad or brand-new condition will be flagged for further checks.”
Should any infringement be established by HDB, action will be taken and the resale transaction will not be allowed to proceed.
“HDB takes the violation of its rules and regulations seriously and will not hesitate to take enforcement action against errant owners depending on the severity of the infringement.” said Mr Lee and noted that it may issue a written warning, impose a financial penalty of up to S$50,000 or compulsorily acquire the flat.
According to Mr Lee, HDB has taken action against 53 owners who have not occupied the flats from January 2017 to November 2022. Of these 53 owners, 21 have had their flats compulsorily acquired due to MOP infringement.
Owners whose flats are compulsorily acquired by HDB in this manner will also face other consequences. For instance, they will be debarred from purchasing subsidized flats in future or taking over such flats by way of change in ownership, among others.
The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) has also taken disciplinary action against agents who have been found to have breached CEA regulations in assisting such owners to sell or rent out the flats between 2017 and 2022. CEA investigated 51 cases involving 69 property agents who had assisted their clients to market HDB flats, which might not have met MOP rules.
Investigations into 32 cases have been completed and CAA took disciplinary action against 18 property agents who were found to have breached the accord.
Six agents have had their registration suspended for between seven and 48 weeks and received financial penalties ranging from 2000 to $5000 imposed by CEA disciplinary committee.
Two property agents were issued letters of censure, one of whom was also imposed was also imposed with a financial penalty of S$1,000.
The remaining ten agents were issued warning letters for their disciplinary breaches. The remaining 19 cases are still under investigation.
Mr Lee said that HDB and CEA will continue to work closely to investigate cases involving HDB owners who sell or rent out their flats during MOP and CEA will continue to review the adequacy of the actions taken against errant agents.
Members of the public can continue to report cases to HDB via the toll-free hotline of 1800-555-6370 or via email.
Rising trend of errant agents
Given the about 60 plus errant cases being investigated, Mr Saktiandi Supaat, MP for Bishan Toa Payoh GRC, asked the Minister if the trend has been increasing or falling and what are the follow-up steps by HDB and CEA to enhance ethics and codes of practices amongst the property agents.
He also asked if the cases are detected by priority inspections, whistleblowing or other methods, or were these by property agents actually whistleblowing as well.
Mr Lee noted that some cases are a result of whistleblowing, some are a result of technological or data methods, and some are a result of random inspections. He added that sometimes more than one tool is deployed in order to zoom in because there are a lot of flats, and lots of homes, with 1.1 million flats owned and more than 50,000 rental flats.
The number of complaints against agents suspected of having assisted in a breach of such rules, including MOP rules, according to Mr Lee, has increased over the last two years from about three per year to about 20 per year.
“So we are concerned about this and will continue to have HDB and CEA to work closely together to ensure that the understanding of the foundation of a lot of these rules relating to property and real estate are underscored by our sector.”