SINGAPORE – Eighteen property agents were taken to task between 2017 and 2022 for helping their clients to market Housing Board flats that breached the agency’s mandatory five-year minimum occupation period (MOP) rule.
Of these, six agents had their registration suspended for between seven and 48 weeks and were fined between $2,000 and $5,000 by the Council for Estate Agencies’ (CEA) disciplinary committee, said National Development Minister Desmond Lee in Parliament on Monday.
Another two agents received letters of censure – which are issued for minor disciplinary breaches – with one of them fined $1,000. The remaining 10 agents were issued warning letters for their disciplinary breaches.
These property agents were found to have breached the code set by the CEA that requires them to ensure that no law, including those that apply to HDB properties, is infringed as part of their work.
CEA investigated 51 cases involving 69 property agents in the past five years, with 19 cases still under investigation, said Mr Lee, in response to questions filed by nine MPs on the issue of Build-To-Order (BTO) flat owners flouting MOP rules.
This comes after some seemingly vacant and unrenovated BTO flats were reported to be up for sale on property portals in December. Agents who listed the units described them as a “blank canvas” and “never stayed in before, brand new”.
Property agents who have reasonable cause to suspect that MOP rules have been infringed should inform their clients of the potential consequences and stop marketing the property, said Mr Lee.
The Straits Times has asked the Ministry of National Development if property agents are required to report such suspected breaches to the CEA or HDB.
HDB flat owners have to live in their units for five years before they can put them up for sale on the open market – a longstanding policy that is meant to reinforce public housing as a home to live in.
Mr Lee said owners who cannot fulfil their MOP due to changes in their circumstances must return their flat to the HDB.
Between 2017 and 2022, a total of 258 BTO flats and 168 resale flats were returned to the HDB, mainly due to changes in the owners’ circumstances within the MOP which made them ineligible to own an HDB flat, he added.
These circumstances include divorce or separation, death of the owner and medical reasons, he said.
Mr Lee said owners who are genuinely unable to live in their flat during the MOP, such as those posted overseas for work, should write to HDB to seek a waiver. These appeals will be assessed on a case-by-case basis.
He added that HDB detects potential infringement of HDB rules through a range of methods, including regular inspections, feedback from the public and property agents.
Data analytics and other tools are also used to detect potential infringement, he said, declining to go into details, as some involve confidential investigative methods.