Why Does This Matter?

When you get an HDB apartment, do you have your flat, or are you leasing it for 99 years simply? There’s been a continuing debate in recent weeks, over if Singaporeans “own” their HDB flats. A few of it is because of confusion over terms found in documents (e.g., where in fact the term “tenant” can be used rather than “owner”). But it stokes an old worry among Singaporeans, that they don’t “truly own” their flats.

Why will this matter? Do Singaporeans Own Their Flats? HDB has mentioned, often, that Singaporeans who buy their flats do own them. However, it might be more accurate to say that HDB has provided a description of what ownership means, by HDB’s criteria. HDB has said that Singaporeans own their flats because they can sell them, lease them out, and do other activities that owners can do.

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However detractors claim that there’s no real ownership, due to the 99-year lease, and the countless limitations that don’t apply to private property. For instance, 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 neighborhood and block quotas that have to be considered, when renting out to foreigners. Ultimately, it comes down to a description debate: do you own something if there’s a rent, and there are restrictions? So while there’s no clear answer there – it’s strictly a matter of perspective – it’s important to look at why the problem of ownership means so much to Singaporeans. After all, if a roof is had by you over your head, it’s affordable, and it appreciates in cost 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 may be returned to the government.

To be fair, this isn’t specific to HDB flats or even Singapore. Many private properties also have 99-12 months lease (commercial properties typically have 60-yr leases), and these kinds of leases are used in some other countries as well. That said, there’s a is concerned that whenever your flat’s lease runs out, you may be breaking to cover a new one too.

And of course, you might find it hard to sell your flat once there are 30 years or less on the lease (purchasers can’t use their CPF to buy it from you). The national authorities have stated, quite clearly, that people can’t always depend on the Selective En-Bloc Redevelopment Scheme (SERS).