They say love is blind. But, at the risk of sounding like a wet blanket, you shouldn’t be blind when it comes to facing the repercussions of a break-up on what could be your most expensive asset – your HDB flat.

Being slapped with an exorbitant fine because of a relationship that has soured can be an expensive slap in the face.

HDB Fiancé Fiancée Scheme (FS) Scheme Started in ’60s

“Our public housing policies are designed to help young families buy HDB flats and set up their first home,” explains a HDB spokesperson.

“The Fiancé Fiancée Scheme (FS), introduced in the 1960s, is one such scheme. It allows young couples who are ready to commit to marriage to apply for a new flat first.”

Alas, not all couples stay together. HDB’s 2013 figures showed that over one-fifth, or 22 per cent, of those who applied in 2009, subsequently cancelled in the next four years.

While we can never predict if a couple may be happily attached today but break up the next, one thing is for sure:

Never base your relationship on the availability (and price) of a flat. Otherwise, you may find yourself paying off a hefty fine while nursing a broken heart.

We examine various real-life HDB divorce scenarios and answer your FAQs.

Divorce HDB BTO: Less Than 5 Years

Question: “My boyfriend and I applied for a HDB Build-to-Order (BTO) flat, but we’ve broken up and want to cancel. What happens to the down payment?

Answer: If you back out of your HDB BTO application, you’ll never see that money again.

“For buyers whose flat applications are cancelled after they have signed the Agreement for Lease (which sets out the sale terms of the HDB flat for buying a flat) and paid the down payment, [the down payment] of the flat purchase price will be forfeited,” says the HDB.

In addition, you will not be allowed to apply or be included as an essential occupier for a new HDB, DBSS, Executive Condominium, or a HDB resale flat with housing grants, within one year from the date of cancellation.

Effective for sales exercises from March 2012 onwards, this is to prevent “frivolous” flat-buyers from hogging spots in the queue.

You need to return any HDB grants, too

If you and your boyfriend are first-timers and had been given HDB grants, you also have to return the full amount with interest. This has to be paid up before you can apply or be included as an essential occupier for a new HDB, DBSS, Executive Condominium, or a resale HDB flat with housing grants, in future.

Subject to new HDB eligibility assessment

Also, your household status (i.e. first-timer or second-timer) will be assessed at the time of your application for a new HDB, DBSS, Executive Condominium, or a resale HDB flat with housing grants.

HDB BTO February 2023 Brickland Weave
HDB BTO Feb 2023: Brickland Weave in Tengah

Young couple broke up after getting BTO

Desiree Lim, then 23, and her boyfriend Jason Ong, then 25, had applied for a BTO flat near her parents’ place, but broke up months later.

That decision will cost them a five-figure sum as they’d already chosen their flat and made their down payment.

“We should have considered more carefully before we applied. Since new housing projects don’t come by often, especially near my parents’ place, we felt the pressure to quickly apply for it,” reflects Desiree. “The sad thing is that this is pretty common among couples.”

couple getting married

Marriage Annulment Under 3 Years: Can choose to retain HDB

Question: “We’ve registered our marriage but decided to get an annulment. Do we have to give up our right to buy our new HDB flat?

Answer: If a couple annuls their marriage – which in Singapore typically means they’ve officiated their marriage at the Registry of Marriages but not passed the three-year mark – one party can still choose to retain the flat.

But this is only possible if his or her parents were originally listed in the application, either as co-applicants or occupiers, to purchase the flat together.

Couple annulled marriage, wife kept 5-room HDB

Fortunately, Martha Lim, then 30, was able to do that when she and her husband annulled their marriage. “I was reluctant to give up our five-room flat, at a great location near Bukit Merah. Luckily, my ex-husband agreed to let me continue the purchase, as we’d already included my parents’ names in our original application as we’d previously planned for them to live with us.”

Like Desiree and her boyfriend, Martha and her ex-husband had applied for the flat in a rush as they wanted to take advantage of the lower prices then and the favourable location.

Otherwise, return your flat to HDB

If none of the owners are eligible to retain the flat, it may have to be returned to the HDB at the prevailing compensation price.

“The compensation for the surrender of flat will take into account the mode of purchase, the occupation period, the purchase price and the valuation of the flat. The compensation amount will be determined and conveyed to the flat owners whose request to surrender the flat will be approved by the HDB,” adds the HDB spokesman.

The good news is there are no charges imposed for the surrender of the flat; however, the usual legal. stamp. and conveyance fees will need to be paid.

Do I need to sell my HDB if I divorce?

Question: “My husband and I have filed for a divorce. Must we sell the flat? If I want to keep it, how much must I pay my husband?

Answer: The HDB explains that in divorce cases, the court will decide on how to settle the matrimonial home.

“For example, the court may order one party to transfer the flat ownership to the ex-spouse or sell his/her share of the flat to the ex-spouse at market value.

Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) must be met

In a situation where neither is eligible to retain the flat (such as when the Minimum Occupation Period isn’t met), the court may order the flat to be returned to the HDB at the prevailing compensation price.”

The HDB will then handle the case based on the orders of the court.

I want to keep my HDB after divorce

Should one party be allowed to retain the flat, he/she can do so only if one of the following requirements is met:

  1. He/she has the custody of the child
  2. He/she includes another person in the flat ownership, for example the parents, if there is no child from the marriage
  3. He/she retains the flat alone under the HDB Singles Scheme, being a Singapore citizen and at least 35 years old. The person still needs to fulfil the balance of the MOP before he/she is allowed to sell the flat in the open market. Do note that after the divorce, if one party is eligible to retain the existing subsidised flat, the other can only apply for a subsidised flat after three years. But if the other party chooses to buy a non-subsidised flat from the open market, there’s no ban.

Can I buy BTO again with my new spouse?

Question: “I’m a divorcee who previously bought a BTO flat with my ex-wife. Can I buy a new BTO flat with my new wife?

Answer: Yes. A divorced person who has enjoyed one housing subsidy previously (e.g. via sale of a resale flat bought with CPF Housing Grant or a direct-purchase flat bought from the HDB) can apply for a new flat from the HDB with his/ her new spouse, as long as they both meet the eligibility conditions such as the income ceiling, citizenship and so on.

From July 2013, couples comprising both a first-timer and second-timer applying for a new HDB BTO flat will now enjoy the same priority in flat allocation as families comprising two first-timers.

What happens to my EC if I get divorced?

Question: “What happens if my ex-girlfriend and I cancel our application for an Executive Condominium (EC) or a Design, Build and Sell Scheme (DBSS) flat?”

Answer: As ECs and DBSS flats are sold by private developers, the Sale and Purchase Agreements are signed between the flat buyers and the developers.

You will incur a financial penalty meted out by the respective developers. This includes a mandatory Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) before you are allowed to sell the property. 

However, the penalty for cancelling an EC or DBSS application is a whopping 25 per cent worth of down payment – much higher than the 15 per cent down payment for an HDB flat. As the buyers did not fulfil the five-year MOP, they are not allowed to resell the flat to recoup their losses.

In 2012, a couple made the news when they cancelled their $610,000 DBSS flat in Ang Mo Kio, which resulted in a 20 per cent penalty of over $120,000. After adding the interest, stamp duty and legal fees which they had already shelled out, they ended up some $140,000 payment out of pocket.

This article was first published in Home and Decor in 2014.