Everything About Renting a Colonial House in Singapore, Simplified for You

Unless you live under a rock, you’ve probably heard of the recent Ridout Road saga in which two of our Ministers are embroiled—the Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam and the Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan.

However, the saga isn’t all that complicated once you understand how renting a colonial house works in Singapore.

Here’s everything about renting a colonial house or a “black and white house” in Singapore, simplified for you.

Colonial Houses in Singapore: Where to Find Them

Think BTO-ing is hard? Try renting a colonial house.

Colonial houses were built by the British in the 1900s and are currently managed and preserved by the Singapore Land Authority (SLA). There are only approximately 500 of these houses in Singapore, with only 13 currently on the market for residential use at the time of writing.

For context, there are more than a million HDB units in Singapore. Talk about a rare Pokémon.

You can find these black-and-white houses peppered all over the island, mostly in places with names we guarantee Goody Feed’s Blue Cat can’t pronounce.

These locations include Cyprus Road, Dempsey Hill, Barker Road, Wessex Estate, Rochester Park, Mount Faber and Changi Road.

The Ridout Road colonial houses rented by Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan are in the Dempsey Hill area.

Renting A Colonial House in Singapore: The Bidding Process

These colonial houses are owned by the government and, unlike an HDB, can’t be bought. They are rented out either for commercial or residential purposes. This means you can also rent a colonial house on a two-year lease.

That is if your bank account allows you to. And no, you can’t use Giant vouchers or Shopee coins to pay your rent.

Your journey to rent a colonial house in Singapore starts with a single click—opening the SLA website to view the available colonial houses.

We recommend that you do this using the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks, seeing as to how you probably have to cancel your fibre broadband plan so you can save the money for your “colonial house fund” instead.

See lah. Hao lian want to buy colonial house somemore.

Once you’ve picked a colonial house of your liking, you’ll notice that the contact details of the house’s managing agent are provided on the listing. You may contact the managing agent for a viewing to double-confirm that the colonial house isn’t a catfish.

From picking your favourite of the lot to “meeting” the house in real life, colonial house shopping thus far sounds like a Tinder date. It even comes complete with a two-year expiry date.

Once you’re set on the colonial house you’d like to spend the next two years with, you’ll realise there’s no asking price on the SLA website—because you’ll have to bid for the house via the open bidding system.

Taking “If you really want me right, then you should chase after me” to another level.

Details on how bids will be submitted, including the bidding period and where to submit the bids, will be provided on the colonial house’s listing.

Note that you’ll also have to submit a couple of other things set out in the application form linked in the colonial house’s listing, such as payslips, identification documents and a deposit.

Perhaps they should also implement this for dating apps—a boyfriend/girlfriend application form and, more importantly, a copy of the applicant’s payslip.

Applicants Must Earn Minimum Income Thrice the Rental to be Eligible for Application 

Wise men say, “Only fools rush in”. This also applies when you’re shopping for a colonial house.

Before you decide to lock yourself in for a black-and-white house, you should probably read the terms and conditions for the application and check if you’re an eligible applicant in the first place.

Here’s the litmus test: Is your average monthly income at least thrice the rental? Are you of “sound financial status”?

Suppose your answer is “no” to the questions above, mai siao lah. Just apply for BTO instead.

Image: Knight Frank Property Asset Management Pte Ltd

Among other criteria, you won’t be allowed to apply to rent the colonial house if you’re below 21, have a bankruptcy petition against you or, interestingly, if you’re insane.

Well, we’d say that anyone choosing to rent a colonial house instead of using the money on bubble tea isn’t exactly what you would call “sane”, but okay.

Bid Results Revealed on SLA Website for Public Scrutiny After Evaluation 

After the bidding period closes and the bids are evaluated, the SLA website reveals the results.

Unfortunately, for the kaypoh among us, the names of these bidders aren’t disclosed, so you won’t be able to find them on LinkedIn.

For instance, the bid results for a 14,563 sq ft colonial house at 6 Hyderabad Road, the core central region, were recently released.

Image: Singapore Land Authority (SLA)

As it turns out, the winning bid for the property was a whopping $25.5K, which takes rental up to $306K per year.

Image: Singapore Land Authority (SLA)

Other bids for the colonial house ranged between $8K to $23K.

However, it isn’t always the case that the winning bid is so high. The winning bid can range from approximately $2K to nearly $8K for a couple of other properties.

Image: Singapore Land Authority (SLA)
Image: Singapore Land Authority (SLA)

Now that your application is successful, all that’s left is to sign the tenancy agreement and, of course, pay more money—including stamp duties and a security deposit equivalent to three months of rent.

Worth all that money to hao lian meh?

The Ridout Road Saga: Ministers Renting Colonial Houses

If you haven’t already heard of the Ridout Road saga, here’s a summary of what it’s about.

Mr Shanmugam and Dr Balakrishnan were accused by the opposition politician Kenneth Jeyaretnam of “occupying” colonial houses along Ridout Road with rental beyond what the Ministers should be able to afford.

Image: Google Maps

Mr Jeyaretnam had estimated the rental of the Ridout Road properties to be at least $1.65 million annually—more than five times the figure we saw for the Hyderabad Road property just now.

However, since the properties were rented out to the Ministers some time back and the SLA website only allows for bid results from the past six months to be retrieved, it is unclear what exactly was the rental bid by the Ministers.

Nonetheless, as we’ve found out earlier, an annual rental of $1.65 million would mean that the ministers are earning a minimum income thrice of that, which adds up to nearly $5 million annually.

For context, even PM Lee only draws $2.2 million for his annual salary—it is thus unlikely that the Ministers are drawing a $5 million salary per year.

So perhaps the mystery that Mr Jeyaretnam was going on about wasn’t so much of a mystery surrounding the Ridout Road properties but rather a mystery surrounding his maths grades back in school.

You can watch this video to find out more about the Ridout Road saga…

…and this video to know how colonial houses are being rented in Singapore: