As seen from social media lately, it seems like Singaporeans aren’t only concerned about their queue numbers regarding their Build-to-Order (BTO) flats.
The other concern… Whether or not there’s a good hawker centre within walking distance?
I’m kidding. The other concern that’s been floating around lately includes whether or not you can leave your BTO flat vacant for five years to fulfil the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) before you sell it as a “brand-new” fact on the resale market.
Yes, this is about the listings of “new BTO flats” on PropertyGuru caught Singaporeans’ eyes (and suspicion) across the island.
In particular, one of the most “notorious” BTO flats to have been thrust into the spotlight lately is a BTO unit located along Yishun Street 51. The owners attempted to sell it after leaving it empty for eight years.
Well, the answer to whether or not you can sell a “vacant” BTO flat even after fulfilling the MOP is…
Based on the Housing Development Board’s (HDB) rules, homeowners must reside in their BTO unit during the MOP for their flat to be eligible for reselling on the open market.
They are also not permitted to sell or rent out the entire flat or purchase private property, and this rule applies to both homeowners who buy their flats directly from HDB or the resale market.
Minister for National Development Desmond Lee also emphasised this in a Facebook post on Monday (19 December), saying that the HDB will take the flat back if owners do not stay in their homes for the full MOP.
“HDB will then put up as a balance flat for other home buyers to apply for,” he added.
HDB has also confirmed with CNA that it is aware that “vacant” and “new” BTO flats are being listed for sale in the open market, and that investigations for some of these cases have already started.
But that’s not all.
HDB also revealed that it had actually caught others trying to sell their vacant BTO flats in recent years, even before this issue went viral this week.
In particular, it’s nabbed more than four dozen cases over the past few years.
Here’s what you need to know.
53 Cases of Owners Not Staying in BTO Units for MOP; Flats Taken Back in 21 Cases
From 2017 to November 2022, HDB issued penalties to 53 cases of homeowners not occupying their BTO units during their MOP.
To break it down even further, 21 flats out of the 53 were taken back by HDB.
The homeowners of the other 32 were given financial penalties or warnings.
According to HDB, around 500 inspections are carried out each month to ensure that housing rules, such as abiding by flat rental rules, are being adhered to.
Investigations may also be carried out on units if HDB receives feedback that homeowners are attempting to defy HDB’s rules.
This includes selling “vacant” BTO flats that have fulfilled their MOP.
Possible Penalties for Trying to Sell a “Vacant” BTO Flat
As for what kind of trouble trying to sell a “vacant” BTO flat can end up getting you into, homeowners may see their BTO units get “compulsorily acquired” by HDB, i.e. HDB may take the flat back.
Homeowners whose flats are compulsorily acquired by HDB cannot purchase subsidised flats in the future, meaning they are not allowed to buy a flat from HDB or a resale flat with a CPF Housing Grant.
Apart from that, they will also be barred from owning a flat through ways such as changing the ownership of a flat to be under their name or renting a public flat from HDB.
They also cannot be listed as occupiers of a unit if they apply for these flats.
For any queue numbers they might have previously received to attain a subsidised flat for HDB, HDB also clarified that these would be voided. They cannot apply again for the following five years.
The homeowners may also receive a maximum financial penalty of $50,000 or written warnings.
On the other hand, HDB will release the compulsorily acquired flats for sale again as part of the sale of balance flats.
I’ll leave it to you to do the math, but I’m sure any calculations will show you that it’s not worth it.
Inspection to be Carried Out When BTO Units are Put Up for Resale
With regards to how HDB can further ensure that “vacant” flats do not end up getting sold in the resale market, HDB may carry out inspections if the resale application shows markers indicating that the owners have not lived in their unit before attempting to sell it.
Investigations include physically investigating the flat, reviewing supporting documents that may point to how the flat was occupied, and interviews with the relevant parties such as the owners, property agents, buyers and neighbours.
As for flats referred to HDB’s panel of valuers, similar investigations may also be carried out if valuation reports indicate that the flat was not occupied during the MOP.
Exemptions on a Case-by-Case Basis May be Granted
However, there are exceptions for selling an HDB flat before fulfilling the MOP.
Factors such as financial hardship, divorce, or the demise of the owner(s) of the flat will be considered, and exemptions may be granted on a case-by-case basis.
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Property Agents’ Duty to Publish Accurate Advertisements
On the other hand, HDB also pointed out that all licensed property agencies in Singapore must ensure that their agents only put up “accurate and truthful” advertisements for properties.
If not, they may be guilty of breaching the Council for Estate Agencies’ (CEA) Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care (CEPCC), and both the agencies and agents may face disciplinary action from HDB.
Apart from that, agents should also verify that the sale of HDB units aligns with HDB’s laws and regulations and encourage their clients to follow these laws.
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