Over the years, the Housing & Development Board (HDB) has been relaxing the rules against divorcees buying flats. Actually, the intention for these rules isn’t really to “punish” them at all. Rather, HDB’s intent is to stop the occasional schemer from gaming the system (there are some people who get divorced on paper, just so they can get a second flat). Still, there are definitely more drawbacks and disadvantages for divorcees, as opposed young families or single buyers, when it comes to public housing in Singapore.
How the situation has changed for divorcees lately
There was a shock announcement in March this year, when HDB removed the debarment period for divorcees buying a flat. Previously, divorced couples could only have one subsidised flat between them.
By default, the spouse with full custody of children (below the age of 18) was the one who could apply for a subsidised flat, while the other had to wait three years (unless they agreed to let their former spouse apply for the flat instead).
For example, if you got divorced and your spouse was granted custody of your children, your spouse would be able to apply for a subsidised flat. You, however, would have to find some way to survive without one for the next three years.
Now however, divorcees can go ahead and apply for a flat so long as you meet the usual, other criteria. But there are still some ways in which a divorcee could be disadvantaged:
You could be too poor to buy, but to rich to rent as well
Even if you can legally apply for a flat, not everyone comes out of their divorce financially intact. For example, there are cases where divorce happens due to problem gambling, and by the time the couple are separated both have been financially drained.
So in these cases, you can apply for a rental flat till you’re back on your feet, right?
Here’s the problem: Rental flats have an income ceiling of $1,500 per month. So if your income is, say, $2,500 and you have two children to look after, you’re in a jam: your budget’s too tight to consider buying a new flat, but you make too much to get a rental flat as well. Plus, renting in the open market is almost certain to be unaffordable, at that income level and with children to raise.
So if you’re a divorcee in this predicament, you’d better hope your parents or relatives are willing to take you in. And it’s going to get crowded, with your children tagging along. Besides this, you need to consider…
The 30-month restriction on renting from HDB
Divorcees who used to own an HDB flat cannot rent from HDB, for 30 months after the sale of their flat. Two and a half years is a long time to wait just to rent a flat (and see point 1 for further troubles about that).
Also, bear in mind that divorcees and their affected children are going through a tough time. Compelling them to live with family, who aren’t always sympathetic to the divorcee, could be fuel for some major emotional trauma.
All this being said, we have to point out that HDB does try to be flexible about the rental rules.
HDB has made exceptions to the rules, on a case-by-case basis. It’s not impossible that a divorcee with children may be able to rent despite busting the income ceiling, or right after the sale of the flat — but exceptions are up to HDB, and it’s not written into the official rules.
Even if the flat was NOT a matrimonial asset, you may not be able to retain it
Let’s say you’ve gotten divorced in your early 30s, and there’s no child from the marriage. Let’s also assume flat isn’t sold off during the divorce, because it’s not a matrimonial asset (e.g. it was a gift to you from a family member).
Even though the flat is yours in every conceivable way, you have to dispose of it unless you meet one of three conditions:
- Your parent or parents’ names are on the flat application
- The children are living with you (as there’s no child from the marriage, you can’t qualify for this)
- You qualify to retain the flat under the Single Singapore Citizen Scheme. That means you need to be a citizen and at least 35 years old. The flat must also be a resale flat purchased from the open market without the CPF Housing Grant for Family (if you bought the flat from HDB, or used the CPF Housing Grant for Family, you must meet the five year Minimum Occupancy Period).
So, for the scenario we described, you would fail to meet any of these conditions and must dispose of the flat.
On a related note…
Divorcees with joint custody have a harder time getting a new flat
Divorcees can count themselves and their children as a family nucleus…if they have full custody of the children. If they have joint custody, then their only option is to buy with parents or siblings, or buy under the Single Singapore Citizen Scheme (see point 2).
This means a 30-year-old divorcee with joint custody, for example, could be stuck without a flat: he/she would be too young to buy under the singles scheme, but unable to form a family nucleus with his/her joint-custody children.
Now a divorcee can also form a family nucleus with parents or siblings; but that’s often difficult. Many of their parents or siblings would already have their own flats by that point.
Things are getting better for divorcees, but our advice is to take the extra step of building an emergency fund in the unfortunate event that your marriage may break up. Yes, we mean continuing to grow your personal savings.
Even if you’re happily married, you should save up enough to cover six months of your expenses, and stash it aside for yourself. For many divorcees, a lot of the pain will come in the weeks immediately following the divorce, when you’re rushing to find new accommodations and adjust to a new lifestyle. Having enough to cover the first six months makes a great deal of difference, and will help you avoid bearing the full brunt of HDB’s seemingly harsh regulations on divorcees.
Are HDB regulations unfair to divorcees? Voice your thoughts in the comments section or on our Facebook community page.
If you found this article helpful, 99.co recommends Purchasing a HDB flat as a single parent: What you need to know and What happens to your HDB flat in the event of a divorce or separation
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