When you get an HDB apartment, do you own your flat, or are you merely renting it for 99 years? There has been a continuing debate the past few weeks, over if Singaporeans “own” their HDB flats. A few of it is due to confusion over terms found in documents (e.g. where in fact the term “tenant” is utilized instead of “owner”). Nonetheless it stokes an old worry among Singaporeans, that they don’t “truly own” their flats.
Why does this matter? Do Singaporeans Own Their Flats? HDB has stated, often, that Singaporeans who buy their flats do own them. However, it would be more accurate to say that HDB has provided a description of what ownership means, by HDB’s standards. HDB has said that Singaporeans own their flats because they can be sold by them, rent them out, and do other activities that owners can do.
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However detractors claim that there’s no real ownership, because of the 99-year rent, and the many limitations that don’t apply to private property. For example, you can book a complete private property immediately, whereas you have to wait for the Minimum Occupancy Period (MOP, presently, 5 years) for a HDB smooth.
There are also neighbourhood and stop quotas which have to be considered, when hiring out to foreigners. Ultimately, it boils down to a definition debate: do you own something if there’s a rent, and there are limitations? So while there’s no clear answer there – it’s totally a matter of perspective – it’s important to look at why the problem of ownership means a lot to Singaporeans. After all, if you have a roofing over your mind, it’s affordable, and it appreciates in price generally, what’s the difference? This is the biggest bone of contention for some Singaporeans. HDB flats have leases that expire after 99 years, and they are returned to the nationwide authorities.
To be fair, this isn’t specific to HDB flats or even Singapore. Many private properties also have 99-yr leases (commercial properties typically have 60-yr leases), and these types of leases are used in some other countries as well. Having said that, there’s a be concerned that when your flat’s rent runs out, you might be broke to afford a fresh one too.
And of course, you may find it hard to market your flat once there are 30 years or less on the rent (customers can’t use their CPF to buy it from you). The government has stated, quite clearly, that we can’t always count on the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).