Public uproar over depreciating values of HDB flats continue despite Minister Wong’s caution to center debate on “facts, not misinformation and half-truths”

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Lawrence Wong

Inundated by the public uproar over the deprecating values of the HDB flats, Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong on 4 September, asserted that the notion that HDB flat buyers are merely renters is “factually and legally wrong.”

Speaking at a forum at the HDB Hub, the Minister said that this is because buyers of both public and private leasehold properties enjoy ownership rights during the lease period and since “They can also sell their properties and benefit from any upside, or rent it out if they choose to.”

Explaining the Government’s stance on leasehold property, the Minister explained: “We have limited space and we need to recycle land to create housing for future generations. Otherwise, Singapore runs the risk of being like some other cities where, because it is difficult to recycle the land, there is a land shortage and housing becomes “very expensive and unaffordable”.

Wong further cautioned that while the Government welcomes feedback on public housing, especially since it is something the people care deeply about, “the debate must always be based on facts, not misinformation and half-truths.”

Many Singaporeans remain unconvinced by the Minister’s response and have asked the Government to explain the many differences between a 99-year-lease private property and the HDB flat.

One response to the National Development Minister’s assertion, trending in social media and written by a Gerard Ong reads:

“All users of leasehold properties, whether public or private, enjoy ownership rights over their properties during the period of the lease. But would you care to explain the following for the benefit of many who still harbour doubts over the definition of what exactly ownership entails:

1. If I buy a resale HDB flat on the open market (with no subsidy) why do I have to wait 5 years and need HDB’s permission to rent my entire flat to interested parties, even if my unit is fully paid up? No such ruling applies if I buy a private apartment.

2. Why do I need permission from HDB to rent out any of my rooms if my unit is fully paid up? No such ruling applies if I buy a private apartment.

3. Why do I need to wait at least 5 years before I can sell my unit even though it was bought on the open market with no subsidies? No such ruling applies if I buy a private apartment.

4. If I am a single owner of a resale HDB unit and want to marry my partner, why does my partner have to sell her private property if I have not lived in my flat for at least 5 years? No such ruling applies if I buy a private apartment.

5. If I truly enjoy ownership rights to my HDB flat, why will banks not accept my fully paid-up property as collateral for a loan? No such ruling applies if I buy a private apartment.

6. If I not abide by any of the above points as stipulated by the HDB I could have my unit confiscated. No such ruling applies if I buy a private apartment.

Well Mr Wong you seem to give the impression that there is no difference between the owner of an HDB leasehold property and a private property, as does our PM. But based on the above points there seems to be a substantial difference. Would you or someone at the HBD care to clarify?”

Another Singaporean, Phillip Ang, pointed out how the HDB has updated its website by removing the words “tenants” and ‘subletting”:

Posted by Phillip Ang on Monday, 3 September 2018

Other have asked Mr Wong to show Singaporeans a sample of the HDB strata titles, which they claim will authoritatively debunk all false claims and assertions.

Meanwhile, non-practicing lawyer M Ravi, has challenged the Minister for National Development to a debate to determine the exact nature of HDB flats.

Mr Ravi said:

“I noticed that the government is harping on the fact that HDB dwellers are owners just like a 99-year leasehold of a condominium where you can sell the lease. Would the Minister of National Development, Lawrence Wong care to shed light on the legal meaning of public housing which HDB flats are compared to a 99-year-old private lease?

“From a legal standpoint and one which is recognised globally, public housing should not be seized even if one defaults on loan from the government or private banks. So why does Singapore government do it?

“When a HDB lessee becomes bankrupt, can a bank seize the property? If public housing is capable of being repossessed and if banks are not able to seize properties, then the whole issue of “ownership” is in the doldrums.”