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Running a Home-Based Business From Your HDB Flat: What You Can and Can’t Do

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Joanne Poh

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The woman who was recently fined for running a curry puff syndicate out of an HDB flat is not the only closet entrepreneur amongst us. From private tutors running huge classes in their living rooms to secret underground beer brewing operations, many people are making money from the comfort of their flats. But unless you want to find yourself on the wrong side of the law, as Madam Robiah did, it’s a good idea to find out just what you can—and can’t—do with impunity.

You can bake cakes, but you can’t turn your flat into a bakery

Technically, you are allowed to bake cakes for profit in your flat, so that bespoke cake business you’ve been wanting to set up does not necessarily have to become a distant dream. However, according to HDB’rs rules, your business must not generate noise, smoke or waste that might become a nuisance to others. In addition, the main purpose of the flat still has to be residential, meaning it must be first and foremost a home and not a bakery.

What all this means is that if you want to bake cakes in your home this is going to have to happen on a very small scale (for instance, selling only to friends and family), and your flat must not become a bakery. This means you might be able to make a quick buck making cornflake cookies over Chinese New Year, but if you’re hoping to make a full-time living baking, you’ll have to look at renting a commercial kitchen instead.

 

You can give haircuts and manicures on a small scale, but not massages

HDB maintains a list of businesses that you’re not allowed to run from your flat. Surprisingly, hairdressing and manicure/pedicure and other beauty services are allowed on a small scale. There are many professional manicurists who provide appointment-only services at home, so if you’re a nail art hobbyist who wants to give other women bizarrely decorated talons from the comfort of your bedroom, you’ve got the green light.

On the other hand, massage services, whether on a small or large scale, are banned, obviously to deter prostitution and other sexual services, ahem. That being said, there are lots of such services being run from private property like condos.

 

You can be a tutor but you can’t run a tuition centre

Nobody is stopping you from teaching tuition at home. But you can’t run a full-fledged tuition centre or commercial school. HDB allows you to teach up to three students at once, although many tutors flout this rule.

Even if you’re not doing anything that might suggest you’re running a school, just be aware that your neighbours might complain if your flat is always filled with noisy kids or there are 20 pairs of school shoes strewn in the corridor. Basically, anything that could become a nuisance to your neighbours may get you into trouble.

Also bear in mind that HDB forbids any business activities that introduce extraneous human or vehicular traffic to the surroundings. If you regularly conduct huge classes of 30 in your flat, this is almost certainly going to raise an eyebrow or two.

 

You can’t turn your flat into a shop

Shop rentals are ridiculously high, and based on the number of dead shopping malls like Orchard Gateway, opening a brick and mortar shop is pretty damned risky. So, why not advertise online and then invite people to your flat to make the purchase?

If you hope to pull this off, you’d better hope you don’t get caught, as HDB has strict rules against using your flat as a shop for the sale of physical products. They don’t want hundreds of people walking around your block as if it’s a shopping mall.

 

You can’t hire more than 2 persons to work in the flat

So your business is growing and you need an extra pair of hands. Well, don’t go overboard like the curry puff syndicate did with their 8 curry puff factory workers. The HDB allows you to have no more than 2 people who are not resident in your flat help out with the business.

This means that if you live with your spouse, he or she will not count as one of the 2—which gives you the perfect excuse to squeeze some free labour out of him or her!

Do you run a business out of your HDB flat? Tell us about it in the comments!

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Joanne Poh

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.

  • Jeff

    hi, can share info on how to register a company in singapore?
    for example, IT company.
    i)need to have office address?
    ii)how to handle tax portion?
    thanks.

    • Jeff

      thanks!

  • Hi Joanne,

    Faizal here from http://www.learnercenteredinstructor.com/.

    Awesome write up. Short and straight to the point.

    Have you any thoughts or information on the type of business entities allowed for hdb, condo and private property?

    I was informed that only sole proprietorship is allowed for hdb flats and those living in private property could use that address for private limited company. Any info on this will be really useful.

    Looking forward..

    Faizal