A Government statutory board has called the Housing Development Board (HDB) the “landlord” of public housing flat buyers, contradicting the Government’s oft-repeated view that HDB flat buyers are homeowners and not tenants or lessees.
The National Parks Board (NParks) called HDB the “landlord” of public housing flat buyers in a recent media statement to TODAY, when it was asked about the case of a HDB five-room flat owner who is seeking authorisation to continue rearing chickens in his flat.
The flat owner, 48-year-old Eric Woo who is considered a leading chicken rearer in Singapore, kept five pet Mini Cochin chickens in two cages in his flat’s balcony until HDB officers visited him in May this year and informed him that keeping chickens in HDB flats was not allowed.
Mr Woo, however, believes that the law is on his side since the Animals and Birds Act, allows people to keep up to 10 birds “in any premises.”
NParks, has a different view and says poultry-keeping is illegal in HDB flats. In response to Mr Woo’s indignation and his questions about how NParks would have jurisdiction over HDB, NParks said that the Animals and Birds Act is a broad law, and “landlords” like HDB have a say on additional rules.
Ms Jessica Kwok, NParks’ group director for community animal management of its Animal and Veterinary Service arm, told TODAY: “Owners are also subject to rules of their landlord, which may or may not allow the keeping of poultry within their managed areas.”
Both the NParks and HDB are Government statutory boards under the Ministry of National Development.
Interestingly, NParks’ statement that HDB is the landlord of flat buyers contradicts the views of National Development Minister Lawrence Wong – the politician who oversees both the NParks and the HDB – who has stressed that HDB flat buyers are not tenants.
In 2018, backlash against the Government and the HDB burgeoned when International Property Advisor chief executive Ku Swee Yong advised “that we be honest with ourselves and recognise that we are merely lessees who rent the HDB flats for their terms”.
The real estate expert’s advice sparked uproar over whether HDB flat buyers are homeowners, lessees, or tenants/renters, given the fact that HDB flats are bought on a 99-year-lease from the government.
Responding to the public uncertainties, PM Lee called the argument that the 99-year HDB lease is “merely an extended rental” as “frankly amazing” and asserted that “HDB lessees are owners of their flats and not renters.”
Instead of assuaging the concerns of Singaporeans, PM Lee’s statement only seemed to confuse the public even more since he said that that public flat buyers are both “HDB lessees” and “owners”.
Some Singaporeans suggested that the government has flipped the definition of lessee to suit them, since well-known dictionaries define those who buy property under a lease as lessees who are akin to tenants – not homeowners.
Later, Mr Wong backed his party head’s views and asserted that the notion that HDB flat buyers are merely renters is “factually and legally wrong.” He further cautioned that while the government welcomes feedback on public housing, “the debate must always be based on facts, not misinformation and half-truths.”
More recently, in March this year, potential future prime minister Heng lashed out at criticism that HDB dwellers are simply tenants instead of homeowners and asked people to “get real,” at the annual PropNex conference.
Mr Heng – who is widely expected to become Singapore’s next prime minister after his recent appointment as deputy prime minister – asserted: “This debate that is going on… (People saying), ‘No, this is a terrible hoax… This is macam (like) rental’, I mean, come on, get real.”
Last month, Mr Wong again stressed that all 99-year leasehold properties are “clearly assets owned by the homeowners. They can rent, they can sell at anytime and keep the proceeds.”
It remains unclear whether the Government and the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) politicians really consider HDB flat buyers homeowners, since their own statutory board implies that flat buyers could merely be tenants since HDB is considered a “landlord”.