Penalties of up to S$50,000 for rule violations

SINGAPORE — Instead of having to choose between compulsorily acquiring a flat and imposing a fine disproportionate to the offence when there has been an infringement of leasing rules, the Housing Development Board (HDB) can now impose a range of penalties up to S$50,000.

The new penalties are made possible after amendments to the Housing and Development Act were passed by Parliament yesterday.

Minister of State (National Development) Desmond Lee told the House that the HDB had encountered cases of owners using their flats as illegal gambling dens or illegal worker dormitories, which created an “undesirable and unsafe” living environment for genuine HDB residents.

Under the existing Act, the HDB may impose a fine or compulsorily acquire a flat, or terminate its lease when the owner is found to have violated the terms of the lease agreement, such as using their flats for illegal purposes or subletting their whole flat.

However, Mr Lee noted that the quantum of fines is fixed for each type of lease infringement.

“In some of such cases, the practical reality is that HDB has erred on the side of compassion and waived the penalty in full,” said Mr Lee.

“But this is not ideal, and can create a moral hazard”.

The minister added: “With these amendments, HDB can now implement a calibrated penalty framework, instead of being faced with the stark choice of compulsory acquisition on the one hand or a fixed quantum penalty on the other.”

Under the amended Act, the HBD will also have enhanced powers to investigate lease infringements.

Currently, its powers to conduct a thorough investigation into suspected lease infringements are limited, and HDB officers would sometimes meet with resistance from flat-owners.

“However, HDB is not able to compel flat-owners to cooperate with the investigation,” said Mr Lee. “This makes it very difficult for HDB officers to carry out their public duty”.

The new laws will allow, among other things, HDB officers to enter and search any flat or other premises that the owner or occupier may be living in, and record evidence in the form of photographs, videos and audio.

However, the officers must first obtain a court warrant before they can conduct such investigations.

Mr Lee said: “HDB will use these powers judiciously and only when necessary, and officers who carry out such investigations will be properly trained to use them professionally.”