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HDB: The thin fine line between “Joint Tenancy” and “Tenancy-in-Common”

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In Singapore, more than 80% of the residents live in HDB flats. Yet how many are aware of the various HDB regulations and its implications to themselves and their loved ones? Not knowing the rules can potentially land you in financial troubles, but may also cause family disharmony and destroy relationships. One of the most overlooked clause is the Manner of Holding, specifically, “Joint Tenancy” and “Tenancy-in-Common”. Read on if you are a joint owner of a HDB flat and is curious to find out how it can impact you.

When you are buying a HDB flat with your spouse or other family members, you would need to decide on the manner of holding the flat upon the transfer of flat ownership, either through joint tenancy or tenancy-in-common.

Technically, under joint tenancy, all the flat owners have an equal share in the flat. However, in the event of a demise of any joint owner, the right of survivorship applies and his interest in the flat would automatically be passed on to the remaining co-owners. This is regardless of whether the deceased joint owner has left behind a Will.

According to an example quoted from HDB’s website “Mr A, Mrs A (wife) and Mr C (son) own an HDB flat under joint tenancy. In the event of Mr A’s demise, the ownership of the flat will automatically be passed to Mrs A and Mr C.”

On the other hand, under tenancy-in-common, each co-owner holds a separate and definite share in the flat. This means that unlike in the case of joint tenancy, the right of survivorship does not apply. Upon the demise of one of the joint owners, his interest in the flat would be distributed according to his Will. In the absence of a Will, the Intestate Succession Act will kick in and distribute the estate accordingly.

According to an example quoted from HDB’s website “Mr A and Mrs A (wife) own an HDB flat under tenancy-in-common with 60% and 40% share respectively. In the event of Mr A’s demise, his ownership in the flat (i.e. 60% share) will be distributed according to his Will, or according to the provisions of the Intestate Succession Act.”

There have been numerous family disputes which landed as court cases because many Singaporeans are unaware or do not understand the implication of this manner of holding clause. Many Singaporeans tend to pay for or finance their elderly parents’ HDB mortgages under joint tenancy. There is nothing wrong with this act and in fact, it is a filial act worth commending in our society. However, complications arise when the elder parents both passed on. The rest of the siblings who had not contributed financially to the property at all but had their names under the joint tenancy will still get equal share of the flat. In such cases, even having a Will will be useless and the only way the rightful owner can claim back his money is through his siblings’ goodwill and the strength of their relationships.

Obviously this may seem like an unfair rule and even though the rightful owner is able to show proof that he paid for the flat, his sibling are still entitled to equal share of the flat. However, from HDB’s point of view, joint tenancy is the more straight forward approach to implement. After all, not all Singaporeans have a Will and you need to realize that if the government has to administer Intestate Succession Act for every death notice, the amount of the work load can be unimaginable, given Singapore’s aging population. So having a joint tenancy clause would make sense, at least for HDB!

However, the HDB is cognizant that not every Singaporeans prefer the right of survivorship approach and henceforth, the provision for tenancy-in-common, which allows owners to distribute in accordance to their Wills or the Intestate Succession Act. Thus, there are certainly flexibility in the rules but Singaporeans need to understand the regulations first and foremost before making the decision on the manner of holding the flat.

Read my other important posts on HDB rules:

  1. Frightening HDB rules
  2. Managing your CPF proceeds from sale of HDB

So the key lesson learned for HDB owners is to think through the kind of ownership for the flat before making a hasty decision. This is especially so if a Will is already in placed before purchasing of the HDB flat. I have read so many sad articles on family disputes over ownership of HDB because of this relatively unknown clause. The ultimate winners are usually the lawyers who earned fat legal fees from the court cases. The losers are normally the family owners because relationships have been strained and damaged to the point of no return.

Many Singaporeans like to say “Oh well, its okay, we are all family! There is no need to be so calculative!”. Yet when it comes to crunch time, money always come first before kinship. This is a sad fact of life. So bottom line is: make sure you understand the rule of the game before you play. Join me in my personal finance journey and subscribe to my email updates. Don’t be stubborn!

Join me in my investment journey and read my financial adventures for free! Through the sharing, my vision is improve and change people’s lives. In school, we don’t learn how to budget, manage our finances, build wealth and invest our money. Instead, we are taught useless subjects which we would never put to use most of the times during our working lives.

Yet, managing our money is an important life skill that is critical to our survival in the society. Many people start to realize how it is importance of managing money only when they face the prospect of financial ruins, by then which would be too late for remedies. Thus, I started this blog to share articles on finances which I aspire to make a positive impact in others’ lives.

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4 Comments

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  1. As far as HDB is concerned, there is another scenario thatis even more critical that maybe you should investigate and highlight.

    Assuming a man and a woman get married and purchase a 500K HDB. The woman, earning more, paid 200K upfront for the HDB.

    One year later, they fall out and have a divource and sell off the HDB.

    The 200K that the woman paid will be spilt 50/50 between them. That’s the real life case that may be have occurring more.

  2. This is exactly what is happening in my family now. My mother paid 87% of the cost of our flat through cpf and the renovation/furniture cost. Yet she was not told of the options and falls into the assumed Joint Tenancy category. My father now refuses to sign the papers to switch to Tenancy-In-Common so that we children can share 80% of the house (just my mother’s share but note she paid more than this). My mother is worried that my father will sell the house after she pass on, leaving us (3 children at mid 20s) with no roof over our heads. Many may think my mom is being overreacting but my father had committed adultery (he has another child in malaysia who is 3 months younger than me) which the other party had been squeezing my father for money for 20 odd years. Is there any law/procedures that can force owners to sign and make the switch to Tenancy-In-Common?

  3. I just stumbled on this site.

    I came across quite a few cases of this nature. At least HDB has changed its style of presentation.

    Previously, its staff when processing and getting applicants to sign stacks of documents including the ‘ownership manner of holdings’ just simply assumed that as long as the buyers are married couples, they will tick as JT (joint tenancy). It takes much time to explain this topic alone and there are so many other forms to sign. That’s why it should be worth engaging an agent who will go through the process and explain this JT to the buyers.

    HDB, correctly, will not want to get entangled into this potentially ‘courts matter’. The dispute will have to be adjudged in court.

  4. Hi Fred,

    To be frank, I don’t think agent will advise HDB buyers or sellers on this rule unless you specifically raise it to them.
    Part of the reason why I started this blog is to raise awareness of personal finance to readers.
    Hope you find it useful.

    Regards,
    Gerald
    http://www.sgwealthbuilder.com

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