Most Singaporeans would rather own a home than rent. But for those who cannot afford to buy a home of their own, it’s actually also possible to rent a flat from HDB at a highly subsidised rate.
HDB rental flats are an affordable housing option for lower income Singaporeans, but actually getting hold of one is not going to be easy.
Here’s a simple guide to how HDB rental flats work, and what you can do to rent one.
- Renting a flat from HDB vs private owner – what’s the difference?
- Who is eligible to rent an HDB rental flat?
- What’s the household income ceiling to qualify for HDB rental flat?
- What if you don’t meet all the eligibility conditions?
- What are the HDB rental flat types & locations?
- How much is the rent for HDB rental flats?
- Next steps: How do you apply for an HDB rental flat?
- What about the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS)?
Renting a flat from HDB vs private owner – what’s the difference?
First of all: Renting an HDB rental flat from HDB is totally different from renting an HDB flat normally, i.e. from the flat owner. If you’re looking to rent a flat the “regular” way, head over to our guide to renting in Singapore.
With that out of the way, here are the key differences between renting from HDB vs renting from the owner of an HDB flat.
|HDB rental flat||“Regular” rental|
|Eligibility||Lower-income Singapore citizens only||Anyone can rent (subject to HDB regulations & approval)|
|Landlord||HDB||Owner of flat|
|Flat types & sizes||1- and 2-room flats only||All sizes & types available|
|Flat locations||Blocks located islandwide, but you can choose from 4 zones only||All locations available|
|Monthly rent||$26 (1-room) to $275 (2-room)||$1,400 to $1,600 (2-room flat)|
|Procedure||Apply under HDB scheme||Approach landlord directly|
Eligibility: This is the single most important difference. There are extremely stringent income and financial background requirements you must meet in order to rent a flat from HDB. That’s because the rental flats are reserved for those in dire need, who have no other options.
Rental price: HDB rental flats are deeply subsidised by the government. Based on 2019 figures, rental prices are at least 80% to 95% cheaper than renting on the open market. Rates are also controlled, rather than being subject to the vagaries of the open market.
Flat options: You can generally only get a 1-room flat. (2-room flats are also available, but only if you meet further criteria). And even though rental blocks are scattered islandwide, you can only apply for one of four zones, so you don’t get to choose which town you want to live in.
Note that I’ve been talking exclusively about the HDB Public Rental Scheme, which is a public assistance scheme to house lower income Singaporeans.
There’s also another HDB rental scheme, called the PPHS, which is for couples, families, or divorced/widowed parents to temporarily rent a flat while waiting for their BTO to be ready. I’ll cover this particular scenario right at the bottom of the article.
Who is eligible to rent an HDB rental flat?
As alluded to earlier, the eligibility criteria for HDB rental flats under the Public Rental Scheme is extremely strict, not to mention complicated.
Here’s the easy bit: All applicants must be at least 21 years old and Singapore citizens. You then need to figure out which of the two schemes you’ll be applying under – the Family Scheme or the Joint Singles Scheme.
The Family Scheme typically applies to couples, but the following are all the options that constitute a “family nucleus” under HDB’s regulations:
- Engaged couple
- Married couple
- Single child + parents
- Widowed parent + children
- Divorced parent + children
- Orphaned siblings
Any combination of the above can apply. Also, although the applicant must be a Singapore citizen, the other party can be either a Singapore citizen or PR.
As for the Joint Singles Scheme, this is when a minimum of two single Singapore citizens jointly apply for a flat. It can be any combination of the below:
- Single (minimum age 35)
- Divorced / separated (minimum age 35)
- Widow / widower
Note the higher minimum age of 35 for singles and divorcees. For the others, the usual minimum age of 21 applies.
What’s the household income ceiling to qualify for HDB rental flat?
OK, here comes the tough bit. Because HDB rental flats are reserved for the truly needy, there are several financial criteria to fulfil in order to qualify for one:
- Household income
- Property ownership / tenacy
- Past property ownership
- Availability of family support
In increasing levels of onerousness, they are…
Household income: First, your total gross household income must not exceed $1,500/month. Your household income also determines how much rent you pay HDB; if it is below $800, you get an even more subsidised rate.
Property ownership / tenacy: It goes without saying that if you own any sort of property (public or private, locally or overseas), you are not eligible for the highly subsidised public housing rental scheme. You also cannot be an existing tenant of an HDB flat, nor can you be an “essential occupier” of one (i.e. your name has been used to apply for the flat).
Past property ownership: While you can technically qualify for a HDB rental flat if you’ve owned property in the past, HDB will check the proceeds from the sale of your previous property to decide if you truly need heavily-subsidised housing.
Availability of family support: In yet another “assessment”, HDB will check to make sure make sure your family members really, truly cannot house you (or help pay for your rent) before they will release the rental flat to you.
What if you don’t meet all the eligibility conditions?
I understand that these conditions are there to discourage people from abusing the system, but like I said 214892 times before, they are extremely strict.
I can think of numerous examples of needy people who would be deemed ineligible for a rental flat by these standards.
For example, imagine someone who’s divorced with custody of the kids, but whose old marital home has not been sold. He or she might not be able to get a subsidised rental flat from HDB based on the property ownership/tenacy condition.
Or picture an older widower whose grown children can afford to pay his rent or take him in – but they don’t want to.
What then? Well, if you face any difficulty qualifying for an HDB rental flat due to your circumstances, you can email [email protected] to enquire or appeal.
What are the HDB rental flat types & locations?
The default HDB rental flat size for all applicants is the 1-room flat.
2-room rental flats are available, but they are only for families of 3 or more members, who have some form of earned income. So families with no income, no matter how large, will have to squeeze in a 1-room flat.
As for location, there are actually blocks of HDB rental flats located throughout the island. You can see this map of rental flats here.
However, you can’t apply for a flat in the specific town you want. Instead, the towns are grouped into 4 zones:
|Ang Mo Kio||Ang Mo Kio, Bishan, Toa Payoh, Serangoon, Hougang, Sengkang, Punggol|
|Bedok / Tampines||Kallang / Whampoa, Geylang, Marine Parade, Bedok, Tampines, Pasir Ris|
|Bukit Merah / Jurong||Central, Bukit Merah, Queenstown, Clementi, Jurong East, Jurong West, Bukit Batok, Bukit Panjang, Choa Chu Kang|
|Woodlands||Yishun, Sembawang, Woodlands|
When applying for a rental flat, you cannot choose the town you want, only the zone. HDB will get back to you based on available flats in the zone you’ve chosen.
How much is the subsidised rent for HDB rental flats?
The monthly rent that HDB collects from you is calculated based on your monthly income and whether you are a first- or second-timer applicant.
The latter may sound somewhat misleading as it does NOT refer to the number of applications you have made for a rental flat. Instead, it refers to the total number of general HDB applications you’ve made in your lifetime.
You are a first-time applicant if you have never ever bought an HDB flat (including resale flats bought using your CPF) and never received any other form of housing subsidy, such as SERS benefits.
Otherwise, you’re considered a second-time applicant. If any of your listed co-applicants (“occupiers”) have ever bought an HDB flat before, the second-timer rate will apply.
Here are the rental prices for a 1-room HDB rental flat:
|$0 to $800/month||$26 to $33/month||$90 to $123/month|
|$801 to $1,500/month||$90 to $123/month||$150 to $205/month|
And here are the rental prices for a 2-room HDB rental flat:
|Monthly household income||First-timer||Second-timer|
|$0 to $800||$44 to $75/month||$123 to $165/month|
|$801 to $1,500||$123 to $165/month||$205 to $275/month|
As you can probably see right away, the rent is extremely heavily subsidised.
According to HDB’s (open market) rental stats, renting a 2-room HDB flat normally costs about $1,400 to $1,600 a month. Even the most expensive rental price of $205 to $275 a month is just a tiny fraction of that price.
Next steps: How do you apply for an HDB rental flat?
If you meet the many requirements for rental, you may proceed by applying for a flat either online via this web form or in person at the Rental Housing counter (level 3) of HDB Hub in Toa Payoh.
You need to submit the following documents for all occupiers in the application:
- NRIC or citizenship certificates
- Singapore PR passport and entry/re-entry permit
- Marriage certificate
- Divorce certificate, Deed of Separation, or other legal document for separation
- Death certificate for parents/spouse (if applying as widow/orphan)
- Birth certificates for children/siblings (to prove relationship)
- Student pass (if applicable)
- Letter from prison authority (if applicable)
- Medical certificate (if applicable)
Don’t forget the following financial/property-related documents as well:
- Latest CPF contribution statements (account balances, contribution history, transaction history, retirement statement if 55 years old and up)
- Resale completion statement from bank (if previous flat was bought with a bank loan)
- Employment documents (different requirements depending on the form of employment)
If you sent in an online application, you will have to go down to HDB Hub’s Rental Housing counter to drop off the documents in person.
HDB does not state how long you’d typically have to wait to get assigned a rental flat, because they “will assess the urgency of each application”.
To follow up, you can contact HDB at 1800-225-5432 or email [email protected] to enquire on your case.
If you want to cancel or edit your application, you can do so at HDB Hub as long as you haven’t been invited to select a flat yet.
You can’t change your application after you’ve selected a flat. Note that HDB will only give each applicant 2 chances to get an HDB rental flat before they will stop offering you entirely.
What about the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS)?
While I’ve talked extensively about the HDB Public Rental Scheme for low-income Singaporeans, there’s also another scheme that secures temporary housing for couples who are waiting for their BTO flats, presumably to encourage them to start having babies sooner.
Called the Parenthood Provisional Housing Scheme (PPHS), this affordable rental scheme is open if you fulfil the following conditions:
- Married/engaged couple (OR divorced/widowed parent with children)
- Singapore citizen + Singapore citizen/PR combination
- Must not own an existing HDB flat
- Have booked an uncompleted flat (i.e. BTO) from HDB
See the HDB website for full eligibility criteria. Note that there is no income ceiling for PPHS.
As for the flats themselves, options are very limited. The flats are mostly 3-room (with the occasional 4-room) and very simply done up, and there are few locations on offer. That said, one of the clusters available for May 2019 is in the highly coveted area of Tiong Bahru.
What’s remarkable is that the rental rates are absurdly low, at $600 to $900 a month for a 3-room flat and $1,500 a month for 4-room flat.
You are most definitely not going to get that rate – especially for a Tiong Bahru flat – on the open market! Based on HDB stats for Bukit Merah (which Tiong Bahru falls under), rent averages out at $1,900 for a 3-room flat and $2,500 for a 4-room.
If you find that paying rent is unpalatable, it’s also possible to share the flat with another household if you submit an application jointly. You can even do so with your parents, but if they own an HDB flat currently, they will need to sell it within 6 months of moving in.
Of course, this being a rental flat, there are regulations to abide by. But I think they’re no less reasonable than what you would get with any other rental flat. In addition, there seems to be no minimum lease for the rental (although there’s a maximum of 3 years).
If you’re interested to apply for PPHS, you can look at the application procedure here. Application can be done via HDB’s portal or in person, and there is an admin fee of $10 per application.
Do you know anyone who rents from HDB? Tell us about their experiences in the comments.