HDB investigating claims BTO flats being sold in violation of minimum occupation rules
Between 2017 and November 2022, HDB has taken enforcement action in 53 cases where flat owners did not occupy their flats during the minimum occupation period.
SINGAPORE: The Housing and Development Board (HDB) is investigating cases of Build-to-Order (BTO) flats being put up for sale after they were left vacant for years.
In response to CNA’s queries, HDB said on Thursday (Dec 22) it is aware of property listings of “vacant” BTO flats being sold on the open market.
“This includes the cases mentioned in recent media reports, some of which have already been under investigation at the time of media’s reporting,” it said.
Reports this week showed a BTO flat in Yishun being put up for sale after being left vacant for eight years. There were also reports of other empty BTO flats that appear to have never been lived in being listed for sale on property portals.
According to HDB’s minimum occupation period (MOP) rules, owners are required to live in the BTO flat before they can sell it on the open market.
During the MOP, owners are not allowed to sell or rent out the whole flat or buy a private home. This applies to flats bought from HDB or on the resale market.
Between 2017 and November this year, HDB has taken enforcement action in 53 cases where flat owners did not occupy their units during the MOP. Of these, 21 cases involved HDB taking back the flats, with the rest being issued financial penalties or warnings.
The Housing Board said it carries out about 500 inspections per month to detect violations of housing rules, such as illegal flat rentals.
Should it receive feedback on suspected cases of violations, such as flats being listed for sale without being occupied by their owners, investigations will be carried out.
On Monday, National Development Minister Desmond Lee said he was asked if a family can buy a BTO flat and not live in it for five years before selling it as "almost brand new" on the resale market.
"The answer is no. A BTO flat must be owner-occupied for the full MOP period. If the owners are unable to fulfil the MOP, then the flat needs to be returned to HDB,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
“HDB will then put up as a balance flat for other home buyers to apply for.”
WHAT ARE THE PENALTIES?
If investigations conclude that a flat was not owner-occupied during the MOP, HDB may “compulsorily acquire” the flat, impose a financial penalty of up to S$50,000 or issue written warnings.
Flats that are compulsorily acquired by HDB under these circumstances will also be put up for sale as sale of balance flats.
Under the Housing and Development Act, owners whose flats are compulsorily acquired by HDB will be debarred from buying a subsidised flat. That means they cannot buy a flat from HDB or buy a resale flat with a CPF Housing Grant.
They will also not be allowed to take over a flat by changing the flat's ownership and they cannot rent a public rental flat from HDB.
These individuals also cannot be included as occupiers in the application of such flats.
“Any application in the HDB queue for a subsidised flat made prior to the debarment will also be cancelled. For failure to occupy an HDB flat, the debarment period is five years,” said HDB.
As part of the resale process, a flat inspection will be arranged when the owners submit a resale application to HDB.
If there are signs that the flat has not been lived in, HDB will withhold the resale application and start investigations to check if the flat owners had failed to fulfil the MOP, said the Housing Board.
The investigation will include a physical inspection of the flat, a review of other supporting evidence or records indicating flat occupation, and interviews with owners as well as property agents, buyers and neighbours, as required.
Separately, for flats which are referred to HDB’s panel of valuers, it will also investigate if there are “tell-tale signs” from the valuation reports of non-occupation of the flat within the MOP.
SALE DURING THE MOP NEEDS TO BE APPROVED
On a case-by-case basis, HDB may grant approval for households whose flats have not met the MOP to sell their unit.
It will take into account the circumstances of the flat owners and their families, and the reasons for such exceptions include financial hardship, divorce, or the demise of the owner or owners.
“HDB flats are meant to meet the housing needs of Singaporeans, and primarily intended for owner-occupation,” said the Housing Board.
It added that licensed property agencies are required to ensure that all advertisements put up by their agents are accurate and truthful.
“Publishing false or misleading advertisements is a breach of the Council for Estate Agencies’ (CEA) Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care (CEPCC), and disciplinary action can be taken against errant property agencies and agents,” said HDB.
Property agents are also responsible to ensure that the sales of HDB flats are proper and legitimate.
Under the CEPCC, housing agents must comply with the laws that apply to property transactions, including HDB’s regulations.
They should advise their clients not to infringe these laws, said the Housing Board.