MOP rule safeguards HDB flats for those who need it, deters speculative buying: Desmond Lee

HDB flat owners must occupy them physically during the Minimum Occupation Period before they are allowed to sell, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee.

“HDB flats are primarily meant for own occupation. Owners are required to physically occupy their flat during the Minimum Occupation Period, or MOP, before they’re allowed to sell their flat on the open market, or rent out the whole flat,” he said in Parliament today (Jan 9, 2023).

And yes, that means home-owners are not allowed to rent out the whole flat under the guise of renting out a few rooms, and leave one bedroom locked but never occupied. 

The Minister was responding to Parliamentary questions regarding BTO units that are left empty during the MOP. 

Explaining further, Minister Lee said the MOP policy safeguards HDB flats for households with genuine housing needs and helps to deter the speculative purchase of HDB flats, hence, keeping them affordable.

Circumstances and life stages

While the Minister recognises that the life stages of Singaporean home-owners change over time, hence necessitating that they move out before the five-year mark, he explained that the five-year period serves to strike a balance.

“On the one hand reinforcing the objective of own occupation while on the other hand, not unduly hampering those who want to move when the family circumstances or life needs change,” he said.

Those who genuinely cannot stay in the flat – for instance, those who are posted overseas for work – should write to HDB to request a waiver of the MOP rule. Such requests will be assessed on a case-by-case basis. 

“Between January 2017 and December 2022, a total of 258 Build-to-Order flats and 168 resale flats have been returned to HDB mostly due to changes in the owners’ circumstances within the MOP, which rendered them ineligible to own a HDB flat. Circumstances include divorce or separation, demise of an owner, medical reasons and so on.”

Minister Lee also said that the Government also lengthened the MOP duration where appropriate so as to strengthen the owner occupation intent of public housing, citing the example of Prime Location public housing MOP of 10 years.

Investigations on infringements

Here’s an interesting thing that Minister Lee let on: HDB investigates potential infringement of its rules through random inspections (about 500 per month), feedback from members of the public and property agents, and data analytic tools. 

Infringing the MOP rule brings about heavy enforcement action, said the Minister for National Development. 

“Depending on the severity of the infringement HDB may issue a written warning, impose a financial penalty of up to S$50,000, or compulsorily acquire the flat.”

He also let on that between January 2017 and November 2022, HDB took action against 53 owners who did not occupy their flats. Of the 53, 21 had their flats compulsorily acquired by HDB. 

Those whose flats are compulsorily acquired will also be debarred from purchasing or owning subsidised flats in the future. 

Even the property agents who help errant home-owners sell or rent their unoccupied flats will face some form of disciplinary action, which is meted out by the Council for Estate Agencies. 

Past disciplinary action against errant agents include registration suspension, warning letter, and financial penalties of up to S$5,000. 

Ending off his speech, Minister Lee thanked members of the public who “have been forthcoming in giving us information when they come across suspected breaches”. 

“HDB will investigate such cases and continue to take firm action against infringement of HDB rules and regulations.”

Cover photo credit: Jiachen Lin on Unsplash