If you are an HDB flat owner in Singapore, renting it out can be a (very) lucrative way to supplement your monthly earnings with passive income.
Currently, all signs are pointing towards Singapore’s rental market being hotter than ever, especially with the HDB rental rate hitting an all-new high in 2022 due to various demand drivers; these range from the re-opening of Singapore’s borders to the shrinking stock of HDB flats available for rent owing to the knock-on effect of COVID-19 on the construction industry.
But whether the market is hot or not, there are specific rules and regulations which all landlords must abide by when renting out their HDB flats. If you are planning to let a room or an entire apartment, here are 5 of them to follow so that you don’t end up on the wrong side of the law.
To-be lessors must satisfy all of the eligibility conditions set out by HDB
As with selling an HDB flat, there are certain prerequisites that homeowners must satisfy first before renting it out.
One of these is the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) which requires buyers to reside within their homes for at least 5 years from the date of purchase. This is so that HDB flats retain their purpose of being affordable housing first and potential investment opportunities second.
In addition to meeting the MOP, HDB homeowners will also have to consider the Non-Citizen Quota before renting out their flats, which like the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) is designed to foster a diverse mix of ethnic groups in local estates.
Hence, depending on the existing ratio of resident non-citizens (excluding Malaysians) to citizens, HDB flat owners living in a specific neighborhood or block may only be able to rent out their property to Singaporeans or Malaysians.
Last but not least, take note that only owners who are Singapore citizens are allowed to rent out their HDB flats, and not Permanent Residents (PRs)!
Flat owners have to get permission from HDB before renting out their homes
The entire procedure of renting out an HDB flat in Singapore is straightforward enough that it can be summarised as a 4-step process: looking into your eligibility (based on the conditions mentioned above), advertising your flat, checking the eligibility of potential tenants, and finally, getting the green light from HDB.
Whether they intend to let an entire unit or just a single bedroom to a tenant, all HDB flat owners are required by law to obtain prior approval from the authorities.
The application process is thankfully straightforward and can be done online after a Letter of Intent (a.k.a. a preliminary tenancy agreement) has been produced. Do take note, however, that a $20 fee will be charged for each application.
Furthermore, in the event of any changes in rental arrangements (e.g. a tenant moves out or changes their particulars), flat owners are responsible for updating HDB and getting the approval renewed if necessary.
HDB flats can only be rented out for the purpose of long-term residential stay
As stipulated by official rental regulations, HDB flats cannot be rented out on a daily or weekly basis (i.e. no Airbnb arrangements allowed), and there is a minimum stay duration of 6 months.
To-be lessors had best take note of this rule as there is precedent for severe punishments meted out towards violators. For instance, according to past news reports from 2014, there were at least two homeowners who had lost possession of their HDB flats after it was discovered that their properties had been illegally rented out to tourists.
Although the properties in question were not HDB flats, a more recent case of providing short-term accommodation illegally in 2022, saw their owner being fined a whopping sum of $1.16 million – the biggest penalty ever meted out to a person in Singapore for such offences, according to the Urban Redevelopment Authority.
Owners of rented-out flats are responsible for ensuring that their tenants adhere to HDB’s rules
In addition to ensuring that their tenants are legal residents of Singapore (i.e. local citizens, PRs, or holders of Employment, Student, Dependant or any applicable visit passes with a validity of at least 6 months), flat owners are also responsible for any infringements of the covenants set out in the lease and provisions of the Housing and Development Act.
Two HDB rules that deserve to be highlighted – because of their relevance to a recent case of overcrowding involving 21 tenants in a 4-room flat (?!) – are the limitations concerning occupancy numbers and illegal subletting.
In the case of the former, there are official caps on the number of people living in an HDB flat, though this varies according to flat type/size. The figures listed below include the flat owner, authorised occupiers and tenants:
Maximum number of occupants
As for illegal subletting, tenants of an HDB flat are expressly prohibited from renting it out to others, be it for residential purposes or otherwise. Alongside the stipulated occupancy caps, this regulation functions as a safeguard against overcrowding, thus maintaining a conducive living environment for everyone living in public housing estates.
Landlords must declare all income received from renting out their HDB flats in their tax returns
As outlined in the official website for the Inland Revenue of Authority of Singapore (IRAS), any rent payments that a lessor receives “are subject to income tax and must be declared in your Income Tax Return”.
This refers to the full amount of rental income as well as any other associated payments received, including but not limited to:
Rent received from leasing of the property
Rent received from leasing of furniture and/or fittings
Recovery amounts from insurance
Last but not least, flat owners should be aware that this tax on rental earnings constitutes part of their Income Tax, and not their Property Tax, which is a tax levied based on property ownership.