Case Update: Per Ah Seng Robin v Housing and Development Board [2015] SGCA 62 – HDB illegal sublet

Per Ah Seng Robin v Housing and Development Board [2015] SGCA 62

Significance: HDB’s right to compulsorily acquire a flat when the flat was illegally sublet.

S 56(1)(h) of the Housing Development Board Act is one of 14 grounds listed in s 56(1) under which the HDB is empowered to compulsorily acquire a flat. We have also noted that adherence to these 14 grounds is a quid pro quo for subsidised public housing: [69].

A flat may be compulsorily acquired if, for instance: (a) the owner and his/her spouse (if any) cease to occupy the flat (see s 56(1)(a)); (b) the flat has been used without the HDB’s prior written consent for any purpose other than that permitted under the lease (see s 56(1)(c)); (c) the owner made misrepresentations to the HDB in purchasing the flat (see ss 56(1)(f) and 56(1)(g)); or (d) the owner ceases to be a Singapore citizen or Singapore permanent resident (see s 56(1)(j)): [70].

In 1986, three further grounds for compulsory acquisition were added to s 56(1) – viz, ss 56(1)(l) to 56(1)(n) – vide the Housing and Development (Amendment) Act 1986 (Act 21 of 1986) as a specific response to three concerns. The first was that of owners who refused to comply with their obligation to pay back grants given by the Government for the purchase of their flats (see s 56(1)(l)). The second was that of irresponsible owners who threw out “killer litter” (essentially, articles thrown from the windows and/or balconies of upper-storey flats, which hurt or even kill passers-by below) (see s 56(1)(m)). The third was the growing trend of using HDB flats to house illegal immigrants (see s 56(1)(n)).

The term “underlets” in s 56(1)(h) is synonymous with the word “sublets”. Although illegal subletting is a distinct ground for compulsory acquisition under s 56(1)(h), there is considerable overlap between this provision and several others. In a situation of illegal subletting, other grounds under s 56(1) may be engaged as well, for instance: (a) s 56(1)(a) (if the owner and his/her spouse, if any, cease to occupy the flat); (b) s 56(1)(c) (if the flat is used without the HDB’s prior written approval for any purpose other than that permitted by the lease); and (c) s 56(1)(d) (if the owner permits any person other than an authorised occupier (as defined in s 2(1) of the Act) to reside or stay in the flat).

The HDB will permit an entire flat to be sublet only in “special circumstances”. If permission is given to an owner to sublet rooms in his/her flat, he/she would still be required to live in the flat to ensure that the sub-tenants do not cause nuisance to their neighbours: [77].

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