HDB investigating 'vacant' BTO flats listed for sale online; 21 owners had flats compulsorily acquired since 2017

A three-room HDB flat at 110A Depot Road, described as “never stayed in before, brand new” in its listing, has an asking price of $650,000. PHOTOS: SCREENGRAB FROM PROPERTYGURU

SINGAPORE - The Housing Board is investigating cases of Build-To-Order flats listed for sale on property portals after they were left vacant during the five-year minimum occupation period (MOP).

Between 2017 and November 2022, 53 errant flat owners who did not live in their HDB flats during the MOP were taken to task, said the HDB on Thursday in response to media queries.

Of these, 21 owners had their flats compulsorily acquired by the HDB, while the rest were issued fines or warnings, it said.

HDB’s statement comes a day after The Straits Times reported that at least three unrenovated BTO flats that appear to have never been lived in before were up for sale on property listing portals. Agents described the units as a “blank canvas” and “never stayed in before, brand new”.

HDB said it is aware 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,” said HDB, without identifying the cases.

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The Board said it takes the violation of MOP rules seriously and will not hesitate to take enforcement action. It added that the longstanding policy is meant to reinforce public housing as a home for the owners to live in.

Flat owners are not allowed to sell or rent out the whole flat or invest in a private residential property during the MOP, which starts from the day of key collection. The restriction applies to both flats bought directly from HDB and the resale market.

National Development Minister Desmond Lee, in a Facebook post on Monday, said owners cannot buy a BTO flat, not move into it for five years and sell it as “almost brand new” on the resale market.

HDB on Thursday said it conducts about 500 inspections each month to detect violations of housing rules, such as illegal flat rentals. It will thoroughly investigate suspected violations, including flats listed for sale that show signs of not having been lived in before.

Owners caught flouting the MOP rule may have their flats acquired by the HDB, fined up to $50,000 or issued written warnings.

Flats that are compulsorily acquired under these circumstances will be put up for sale via the Sale of Balance Flats, said HDB.

Such owners will be debarred from buying a subsidised flat, taking over such a flat by way of change in flat ownership or renting a public rental flat from HDB for five years.

Additionally, they cannot be included as listed occupiers in the application for such flats. Any existing application made prior to the debarment will also be cancelled, said HDB.

HDB conducts flat inspections as part of the resale process, after 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 commence investigations to ascertain if the flat owners had failed to fulfil the MOP,” it said.

A three-room HDB flat at 95A Henderson Road has an asking price of $750,000. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM PROPERTYGURU

HDB said it will also investigate if there are tell-tale signs of a flat not being lived in from the valuation reports submitted by its panel of private valuers.

The investigation will include a physical flat inspection, a review of supporting evidence or records indicating flat occupation and interviews with flat owners, property agents, buyers and neighbours.

HDB said it may allow households whose flats have not met the MOP to sell their unit on a case-by-case basis, taking into account their specific circumstances. The reasons for such exceptions include financial hardship, divorce or the death of the owners.

A three-room HDB flat at 110A Depot Road, described as “never stayed in before, brand new” in its listing, has an asking price of $650,000. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM PROPERTYGURU

Property agents have the responsibility of ensuring sales of HDB flats are proper and legitimate, said HDB, adding that agents should advise their clients not to break the rules.

Licensed property agencies are also required to ensure that all ads 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, HDB said.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.