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Thread: HDB flat buyers - owners or lessees? Debate goes beyond semantics

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    Default HDB flat buyers - owners or lessees? Debate goes beyond semantics

    HDB flat buyers - owners or lessees? Debate goes beyond semantics

    Ng Jun Sen

    AUG 21, 2017

    It may be more fruitful for discussion to focus on raising awareness of lease expiry, says analyst


    Lessee. Tenant. Owner.

    When it comes to Housing Board flats, these plain terms seem to befuddle many.

    What exactly should an HDB flat buyer be known as? Over the past two months, this discussion has been playing out in The Straits Times' Forum pages and online.

    Clearly, flat buyers are flat owners, with the right to sell, rent and renovate, within guidelines and for the tenure of their lease, said the HDB.

    But some people seized on the qualifiers - for the length of the lease. Does that not mean that a more accurate term for HDB flat owners is "lessees", they wonder.

    It also did not help that some HDB webpages and documents refer to flat buyers as "lessees" and the HDB as "lessor".

    This is not just a tussle over semantics. It goes to the heart of a longstanding debate over whether HDB flat owners can be called that when they have to return their homes to the state when their leases expire, and when rules over what they can or cannot do with their homes are generally more circumscribed than those for owners of private leasehold property.

    The question first arose on June 24 when a reader, Mr Larry Leong, wrote in to query the HDB on the terms it apparently used to refer to him. "While applying to rent out my HDB flat, I noticed that the Housing Board referred to me as a 'tenant', and my potential tenant as a 'sub-tenant'," said Mr Leong, adding that he had paid for his flat fully.

    "Can we have some clarity on whether HDB dwellers are tenants or real home owners for 99 years?"

    In its reply three weeks later, the HDB clarified that the term "tenants" refers only to those who rent public rental flats from it.

    Purchasers of HDB flats are owners of their property, its director of branch operations Lim Lea Lea stated categorically.

    She said: "Flat owners enjoy rights to exclusive possession of the flat during the tenure of the flat lease. They can sell, let out and renovate their flats, within the guidelines specified in the lease and Housing and Development Act."

    The board also said "the name of each HDB flat owner is reflected in the title deed, the original of which is kept with the Singapore Land Authority, as part of the central and comprehensive record for all properties in Singapore. This confirms his or her ownership of the property."

    But others remained unsure.

    Mr Andrew Seow Chwee Guan wrote in a letter dated July 20 that a duplicate lease of an HDB flat he holds "was executed by me and my spouse many years ago as a lessee in the presence of a lessor - an HDB representative".

    He added: "My understanding is that HDB purchasers are lessees and the HDB is the lessor.

    "There is a distinct difference between owners and lessees."

    In its latest reply published on Aug 14, the HDB said the leasehold system allows the land to be recycled and redeveloped, and is common around the world. It reiterated that leasehold property buyers are owners too, albeit for the length of the lease they hold.

    "During this period of ownership, they can decide to live in the flat, renovate it, rent it out or even sell it once they meet the eligibility conditions. They can decide on the selling price or rental rate of the flat, and they get to keep the proceeds from these transactions.

    "These are rights and benefits that only a flat owner can enjoy."

    However, experts have also pointed out that, unlike private property owners, HDB flat buyers cannot initiate collective sales of their homes, unless picked under the Selective En Bloc Redevelopment Scheme. On the flip side, HDB flat buyers are entitled to more benefits, including subsidised prices.

    Given the way the terms owner and lessee seem to be used interchangeably at times, should HDB then change its nomenclature for a buyer to "lessee" to avoid misunderstandings?

    Some argue that the term "owner" implies a person has possession of the property in perpetuity. They are in favour of the term "lessee", which they say states clearly that there is a lifespan to the possession of the property.

    "Lessee" is a more precise term, say property lawyers such as Ms Sandra Han of RHTLaw Taylor Wessing, though the word "owner" is still accurate.

    Acknowledging that the topic is "quite tricky", she added: "The term 'owner' is quite nebulous and is used very generally."

    Ms Tay Huey Ying, head of research and consultancy at property consultancy JLL Singapore, said ownership is typically implied for long-term leases of, say, more than 60 years.

    At any rate, the Government will likely not be keen to give up the use of the term, say real estate watchers like Mr Nicholas Mak, head of research and consultancy at ZACD Group. The word "owner" connotes rootedness and identity, unlike "lessee", and this is why the authorities would prefer to stick to the earlier term, he said.

    "In referring to buyers as owners, it is a case of HDB trying to have its cake and eat it too," he said.

    Ms Tay said it is more fruitful for the debate to focus on raising awareness of lease expiry.

    In fact, she said "ownership" has the advantage of allowing residents to feel that they have a stake in society and want to contribute actively to the country.

    "With some leases running down, what is more important is to educate purchasers on what leasehold means," she said.

    Correction note: The story has been updated to reflect the name of Ms Sandra Han's law firm.

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    What an utter farce. What is there to dispute? If anything you should only do so if and only if HDB officially declares you are a lessee and NOT an owner. Singaporeans, come on... everything also complain!

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    Don't need to declare, it is already in the "ownership" contract HDB "owners" signed with HDB that they are only "lessee"....
    This fact already presented here:

    While applying to rent out my HDB flat, I noticed that the Housing Board referred to me as a 'tenant', and my potential tenant as a 'sub-tenant'," said Mr Leong, adding that he had paid for his flat fully.
    ....................................................
    Mr Andrew Seow Chwee Guan wrote in a letter dated July 20 that a duplicate lease of an HDB flat he holds "was executed by me and my spouse many years ago as a lessee in the presence of a lessor - an HDB representative".
    It is not wrong to say HDB flat owners are "owners" too but what HDB flat "owners" really "owned" is a 99-years tenancy agreement to the HDB flat.
    The only thing is that this 99-years tenancy agreement has more flexibility than private short term tenancy agreement as HDB flat "owners" can live in the HDB flat or resell the "tenancy agreement" to somebody else (subject to approval by HDB)! This is why HDB flat "owners" do not own the land that their HDB flat stand on (and probably not even the physical structure since they are only "lessee" in the contract).

    Quote Originally Posted by frumnat View Post
    What an utter farce. What is there to dispute? If anything you should only do so if and only if HDB officially declares you are a lessee and NOT an owner. Singaporeans, come on... everything also complain!
    Last edited by teddybear; 29-08-17 at 12:34.

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    Quote Originally Posted by teddybear View Post
    Don't need to declare, it is already in the "ownership" contract HDB "owners" signed with HDB that they are only "lessee"....
    This fact already presented here:


    It is not wrong to say HDB flat owners are "owners" too but what HDB flat "owners" really "owned" is a 99-years tenancy agreement to the HDB flat.
    The only thing is that this 99-years tenancy agreement has more flexibility than private short term tenancy agreement as HDB flat "owners" can live in the HDB flat or resell the "tenancy agreement" to somebody else (subject to approval by HDB)! This is why HDB flat "owners" do not own the land that their HDB flat stand on (and probably not even the physical structure since they are only "lessee" in the contract).
    You pay for what you get. Simple as that.

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    You buy a car in SG. People call you car owner. You only own for 10 years max. After that you gotta pay to extend usage of 10-year old vehicle for another 5/10 years. Why not called car lessee?
    The three laws of Kelonguni:

    Where there is kelong, there is guni.
    No kelong no guni.
    More kelong = more guni.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kelonguni View Post
    You buy a car in SG. People call you car owner. You only own for 10 years max. After that you gotta pay to extend usage of 10-year old vehicle for another 5/10 years. Why not called car lessee?
    Because a Car made you feel good, high and think you got something to show.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Arcachon View Post
    Because a Car made you feel good, high and think you got something to show.
    But then you full and max loan for the car and gotta Uber / Grab to get funds to use it. Still owner?
    The three laws of Kelonguni:

    Where there is kelong, there is guni.
    No kelong no guni.
    More kelong = more guni.

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    Because you own the physical car! Think you quite stupid! Ha ha ha!
    Now, compare back to HDB flat: If you are real "owner" of a property, then you should own the land that the property sits on as well the property physical structure!
    However, this is NOT the case for HDB flat "owners"!

    Actually, HDB flat "owners" don't even own the physical structure of the HDB flat, that is why HDB flat "owners" are legally termed "lessee"!

    Why don't you ask why 99-years leasehold property owners are called "owners" and not "lessee"?! Ha ha ha!

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelonguni View Post
    You buy a car in SG. People call you car owner. You only own for 10 years max. After that you gotta pay to extend usage of 10-year old vehicle for another 5/10 years. Why not called car lessee?

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    Read my previous message. Full loan still servicing, really own meh? Try not servicing for a month or two.

    Quote Originally Posted by teddybear View Post
    Because you own the physical car! Think you quite stupid! Ha ha ha!
    Now, compare back to HDB flat: If you are real "owner" of a property, then you should own the land that the property sits on as well the property physical structure!
    However, this is NOT the case for HDB flat "owners"!

    Actually, HDB flat "owners" don't even own the physical structure of the HDB flat, that is why HDB flat "owners" are legally termed "lessee"!

    Why don't you ask why 99-years leasehold property owners are called "owners" and not "lessee"?! Ha ha ha!
    The three laws of Kelonguni:

    Where there is kelong, there is guni.
    No kelong no guni.
    More kelong = more guni.

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    Loan or not, legally you are the owner lah!

    Actually hor, 99-years leasehold private property "owners" are also not really genuine "owners" (similar to HDB flat "owners")! This is because while they own the physical property structure, hence called "owners", legally they do not own the land since they only leased the land their property stand on for 99-years!

    Only Freehold property owners are REAL OWNERS (because they own both the property physical structure and the land the property sits on)!

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelonguni View Post
    Read my previous message. Full loan still servicing, really own meh? Try not servicing for a month or two.
    Quote Originally Posted by teddybear View Post
    Because you own the physical car! Think you quite stupid! Ha ha ha!
    Now, compare back to HDB flat: If you are real "owner" of a property, then you should own the land that the property sits on as well the property physical structure!
    However, this is NOT the case for HDB flat "owners"!

    Actually, HDB flat "owners" don't even own the physical structure of the HDB flat, that is why HDB flat "owners" are legally termed "lessee"!

    Why don't you ask why 99-years leasehold property owners are called "owners" and not "lessee"?! Ha ha ha!

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    So if Govt wants your land and acquires it, you can say no because you are the owner?

    Quote Originally Posted by teddybear View Post
    Loan or not, legally you are the owner lah!

    Actually hor, 99-years leasehold private property "owners" are also not really genuine "owners" (similar to HDB flat "owners")! This is because while they own the physical property structure, hence called "owners", legally they do not own the land since they only leased the land their property stand on for 99-years!

    Only Freehold property owners are REAL OWNERS (because they own both the property physical structure and the land the property sits on)!
    The three laws of Kelonguni:

    Where there is kelong, there is guni.
    No kelong no guni.
    More kelong = more guni.

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    They MUST pay you MARKET RATE (for both land and value of the physical buildings), not lease-reduced rate!
    Unlike 99-years leasehold properties, like say your property has 99-years land lease and the land reaches 99-years lease, then the government doesn't need to pay you anything for the land! In fact, they can ask you to tear down your buildings at your own cost!

    Another thing, if say you found treasure or a pot of gold etc under your freehold land, the treasure belong to you!
    However, if say you found treasure or a pot of gold etc under your 99-years leasehold property and land, then the treasure belongs to the land owner!
    This is what differentiate GENUINE OWNER and land "lessee"!

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelonguni View Post
    So if Govt wants your land and acquires it, you can say no because you are the owner?

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    So as the owner, if you are not happy with their so called market rate and insist they multiply the rent X infinity due to your assessment of the FH status, the Govt has no choice but to oblige because you are the owner?


    Quote Originally Posted by teddybear View Post
    They MUST pay you MARKET RATE (for both land and value of the physical buildings), not lease-reduced rate!
    Unlike 99-years leasehold properties, like say your property has 99-years land lease and the land reaches 99-years lease, then the government doesn't need to pay you anything for the land! In fact, they can ask you to tear down your buildings at your own cost!

    Another thing, if say you found treasure or a pot of gold etc under your freehold land, the treasure belong to you!
    However, if say you found treasure or a pot of gold etc under your 99-years leasehold property and land, then the treasure belongs to the land owner!
    This is what differentiate GENUINE OWNER and land "lessee"!
    The three laws of Kelonguni:

    Where there is kelong, there is guni.
    No kelong no guni.
    More kelong = more guni.

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    If want to be technical and philosophical, no human being can an owner because the Creator/Divine One/God/Heaven will eventually take away all belongings. In other words, we do not even own our life.

    Now does squabbling over a trivial matter of HDB/LH condo owner make us any wiser? *Sigh*

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    What you said will not arise because you are already paid market rate, assessed by independent valuers, and with that money you can buy another similar FH property that gives the same rental to infinity! (I understand why you ask so stupid question here because for 99-years leasehold the compensation cannot afford you to buy a similar property!).

    Well, if you are still not happy with the government, you can bring the government to court!
    The Judiciary will be considered most independent of all.

    Quote Originally Posted by Kelonguni View Post
    So as the owner, if you are not happy with their so called market rate and insist they multiply the rent X infinity due to your assessment of the FH status, the Govt has no choice but to oblige because you are the owner?

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    Thanks for acknowledging what is known as market rate and independent valuers. That's where the FH value is set above 99LH, according to the valuers.

    Quote Originally Posted by teddybear View Post
    What you said will not arise because you are already paid market rate, assessed by independent valuers, and with that money you can buy another similar FH property that gives the same rental to infinity! (I understand why you ask so stupid question here because for 99-years leasehold the compensation cannot afford you to buy a similar property!).

    Well, if you are still not happy with the government, you can bring the government to court!
    The Judiciary will be considered most independent of all.
    The three laws of Kelonguni:

    Where there is kelong, there is guni.
    No kelong no guni.
    More kelong = more guni.

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    Don’t you find squabbling over a trivial matter of HDB/LH condo owner ludicrous? I say if the bunch insists they are lessees, why reject their insistence?

    Never argue with a fool, onlookers may not be able to tell the difference - Mark Twain

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    Not really squabbling for me. I only speak the closest version of truth I can access.
    The three laws of Kelonguni:

    Where there is kelong, there is guni.
    No kelong no guni.
    More kelong = more guni.

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    The TRUTH can ONLY be based on the legal CONTRACT that is legally binding, nothing can change that:

    1) HDB flat "owner" -
    they only own 99-years tenancy agreement for their HDB flat!
    They don't own the land that the property sits on, nor the physical building.

    2) 99-years leasehold property "owner" -
    they only own 99-years tenancy agreement for the land their property sits on + the physical building!
    However, that can be worst because legally they are supposed to tear down the building and return empty land to land owner when their land lease expires!

    I know that when I tell the truth some people will not be happy (like Ringo, minority etc) but so be it as long as I know I am telling the truth!

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    Quote Originally Posted by teddybear View Post
    The TRUTH can ONLY be based on the legal CONTRACT that is legally binding, nothing can change that:

    1) HDB flat "owner" -
    they only own 99-years tenancy agreement for their HDB flat!
    They don't own the land that the property sits on, nor the physical building.

    2) 99-years leasehold property "owner" -
    they only own 99-years tenancy agreement for the land their property sits on + the physical building!
    However, that can be worst because legally they are supposed to tear down the building and return empty land to land owner when their land lease expires!

    I know that when I tell the truth some people will not be happy (like Ringo, minority etc) but so be it as long as I know I am telling the truth!
    Here we go again. I reckon it is more interesting to discuss how much per kilo for kangkong. LOL

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    Quote Originally Posted by teddybear View Post
    The TRUTH can ONLY be based on the legal CONTRACT that is legally binding, nothing can change that:

    1) HDB flat "owner" -
    they only own 99-years tenancy agreement for their HDB flat!
    They don't own the land that the property sits on, nor the physical building.

    2) 99-years leasehold property "owner" -
    they only own 99-years tenancy agreement for the land their property sits on + the physical building!
    However, that can be worst because legally they are supposed to tear down the building and return empty land to land owner when their land lease expires!

    I know that when I tell the truth some people will not be happy (like Ringo, minority etc) but so be it as long as I know I am telling the truth!
    Why not see it this way? Supposing a 99Yr LH already exhausted 98 years. Sell to developers nominal sum for the land, the developer only needs to top up 98 years' lease, which is a smaller sum as compared to GLS land bidding. So long as Govt does not want back the land, this arrangement is fine for everybody.

    So in actuality, nobody has actually paid the cost to tear down the building and return empty land to SLA.

    For the Geylang Lor 3 landed plot, I think Govt will demolish for them as well. Don't believe just wait lor.

    Anyway demolish only needs how many thousands? How much is this relative to the cost of land and building?
    The three laws of Kelonguni:

    Where there is kelong, there is guni.
    No kelong no guni.
    More kelong = more guni.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Kelonguni View Post
    Why not see it this way? Supposing a 99Yr LH already exhausted 98 years. Sell to developers nominal sum for the land, the developer only needs to top up 98 years' lease, which is a smaller sum as compared to GLS land bidding. So long as Govt does not want back the land, this arrangement is fine for everybody.

    So in actuality, nobody has actually paid the cost to tear down the building and return empty land to SLA.

    For the Geylang Lor 3 landed plot, I think Govt will demolish for them as well. Don't believe just wait lor.

    Anyway demolish only needs how many thousands? How much is this relative to the cost of land and building?
    Trust me. In land scare Singapore, it is almost guaranteed property developers will snap up enbloc of almost every aging LH condos except for those in very crap locations. But hey, how big is Singapore to have a crap location? Land bank is their lifeline lah

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