For Foreigners: How to Rent an HDB flat

Living in a new place is exciting and anxiety-inducing at the same time. For a new transplant in Singapore, there are thrilling new things to do, new friends to meet and new adventures to be had. But there is also that new job to get used to, new co-workers to work with and a suitable dwelling to secure.

To ease the transition process, let us help you with your housing needs.

If you are looking to rent an HDB unit, here’s a guide on the steps you need to do, the documents to keep handy and the fees you will need to pay.

Who can rent an HDB flat?

  • Singapore citizens
  • Singapore Permanent Residents
  • Non-citizens who are legally residing in Singapore who are holders of Employment Passes, S Passes, Work Permits, Student Passes, Dependant Passes, or Long-Term Social Visit (LTSV) Passes. These passes must have a validity period of at least 6 months as at the date of application

Note that work permit holders from the construction, manufacturing, marine, and process sectors must be Malaysians. Tourists are not allowed as tenants of HDB flats.

7 Steps to renting an HDB unit

1. Prepare the rental requirements

  • Photocopy and original Singapore NRIC, Student Pass, LTSV Pass, Dependant Pass, Work Permit, S Pass or
    Employment Pass
  • Photocopy and original foreign passport
  • Budget for one month advance rental fee, security deposit, tenant stamp duty and Public Utilities Board (PUB) deposit
  • Local contact number and email so that the property agent and/or your future landlord may contact you

Depending on the neighbourhood and the size of the flat, rent will definitely vary. It can go as low as S$1,800 for smaller units in areas further from the Central Business District (CBD) to over $3,000 for either 4-room flats or those within or near the CBD.

2. Search property listings in your preferred locations

You may choose to live near your workplace for convenience, or opt to rent in one of the HDB blocks in the heartlands which may be cheaper by $300-$500. Don’t be fazed by a heartland location as Singapore is well connected and has a very efficient transportation network that includes the Mass Rapid Transit, Light Rail Transit and many buses.

Aside from property portals, check also the Ohmyhome app to connect to homeowners directly at no cost. Its in-app ShoutOut feature allows tenants like you a place to list your home requirements. Landlords can filter through this space and suggest their listing to you if it matches your needs.

Some Popular HDB neighbourhoods:

District 18: Pasir Ris and Tampines

HDB flats here are much more spacious in comparison to most neighbourhoods. These locations give residents easy access to the city and to the coast. For the weekend, numerous activities in local parks and beaches await.

District 23: Choa Chu Kang and Bukit Batok

Both these neighbourhoods are located in the west side of Singapore and offer residents spacious areas, parks and other facilities. It is a good neighbourhood for families and those who enjoy outdoor activities.

District 27: Yishun and Sembawang

The residential areas in the north of the island offer tranquility and choices of activities in nature, such as brisk walking at the Lower Seletar Reservoir Park or having a lazy picnic beachside in Sembawang Park. It is also much easier  to cross the border to Malaysia from here for a quick weekend getaway.

3. Schedule and attend viewings

Once you have shortlisted three to five HDB flats, contact the agents or the landlords whose details should be in the postings and ask questions about the property. This is the time too to ask for a virtual tour of the units or schedule an in-person viewing.

This step may have to be repeated over and over until you find a unit that you really like. Before signing anything, however, verify first that the property agent representing the landlord is registered.

Ensure that the agent you are working with is registered with the Council for Estate Agencies.

4. Check that the agent is registered

Here are four ways to ensure the agent has a valid Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) licence:

  • Go to CEA‘s official website
  • Click on “Check if your agent is registered“
  • Enter his or her name or registration number (you can find this on his/her business card or ID nametag)
  • Click on “Search”

5. Writing a Letter of Intent (LOI)

After ensuring that the agent is licensed to represent the landlord, create your LOI.

The LOI should be addressed to the landlord and states your intentions to enter a Tenancy Agreement (TA). Sending this to the landlord means that they would have to stop advertising the unit for rent, essentially preventing other would-be tenants from viewing the property.

Some important items to note in the LOI:

  • Reservation fee – This is also known as a “good faith deposit”. This will ensure that your landlord stops looking for other prospective tenants for his property. Later on, this deposit will become part of your advance rental fee for the first month or security deposit.
  • Security deposit – The standard deposit for a one-year lease is one month’s rent. When the term ends, you can get this money back without interest provided the landlord does not deduct costs incurred from you breaching any of the covenants of the TA.

To ensure a smooth handover at the end of your stay, make sure that the unit is clean and in tip-top shape. Do note that the security deposit cannot be used to offset the last month’s rent should you choose not to renew the lease.

  • Term of lease – Usually, the rental period in Singapore is 12 months or 24 months and the TA should state the agreed length of stay. About two or three months prior to the end of the lease, make sure to inform your landlord or his agent your intention to stay on or leave.

Take note: The minimum tenancy period for HDB flats in Singapore is six months. Short-term rental in Singapore is illegal.

  • Requests and requirements – Your LOI is the perfect vehicle for you to specify all your requests and requirements prior to renting the property.

This would include requests for new appliances and replacement of old furniture and fixtures. 

Negotiate these requests with your landlord and get agreement before he or she signs your LOI. 

  • Diplomatic Clause – This clause allows you to terminate the tenancy early without heavy penalty in case you have to leave Singapore due to the loss of a job or a transfer out of Singapore.

    Other clauses to pay close attention to include those that pertain to maintenance and repair costs, your right to privacy, as well as permitted access by the landlord, among others.

Give the LOI directly to the landlord or to the property agent. Then schedule another meeting before the handover.

Your Tenancy Agreement will be based on your Letter of Intent so make sure to check every detail mentioned there.

6. The Tenancy Agreement

This agreement will be drafted and prepared for you by your property agent, or the landlord or his agent. Your TA will be based on your LOI, so make sure to check every detail mentioned there.

You will also need to pay the stamp duty within 14 days from the date of the TA. The stamp duty is a tax on dutiable documents relating to immovable properties in Singapore, as well as stocks and shares. 

The next step is a home inspection with the landlord or his agent to make sure everything is in good order.

If everything checks out, you can now apply for utilities to be switched on or transferred to your name if the account is still linked to the previous tenant or the landlord’s. Once all these are done, you can now start the process of moving in.

7. Remember this about payments

There is no need to pay your agent’s service fee in advance as this is only  due upon completion of the whole process. If you did not hire an agent to help you in your house hunt, then you save on this cost.

Your landlord’s property agent will not accept cash for the first month’s rental and deposit, so just pass him or her a check for it or transfer the sum directly to the landlord’s account. 

CEA has more reminders in this video.

In case you need it, Ohmyhome’s HDB Rental Documentation Service is available at a fixed fee of $588 + GST. 

Frequently asked questions

Can Singapore Permanent Resident flat owners rent out their units?

No. Only citizens who have fulfilled the Minimum Occupation Period can rent out their flats.

Can a foreign student rent an HDB flat?

Yes, a non-citizen residing legally in Singapore who is a holder of a Student Pass can rent an HDB flat. Just note that the pass must have a validity period of at least six months as of the date of application.

How many tenants are allowed in a rental HDB flat?

For 1-room and 2-room flats, the maximum number of tenants allowed in each flat is 4. For 3-room and bigger flats, it is 6.