We Broke Up. Now, What About the HDB Flat?

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What happens to the HDB flat after you break up?

It happens – sweet nothings devolving into verbal antagonistic missiles as the relationship takes a turn for the worse. It becomes even more complicated when a HDB flat is involved. We explore the financial implications and the ways to lessen the blow.

The romance has all but fizzled out and the fat lady, she with the falsetto voice and remarkable throat clearing abilities, is in the middle of her solo. While break-ups and divorces in most other countries are quite procedurally straightforward, separations in Singapore can be a rather complicated affair, especially when a HDB flat is involved.

For those not in the know, most Singapore courtships begin in school and plod along steadily until marriage. The key difference though is that many couples apply for public housing, also known as a HDB flat, three to four years before actually tying the knot and being legally married in the eyes of the law. Singapore might be the only country in the world where it’s more practical to put the cart in front of the horse.

Having said that, a lot can happen in that three- to four-year wait. The worst: breaking the engagement or separating before the flat is completed.

Practical reasons aside, applying for a HDB flat is a huge financial decision that shouldn’t be taken lightly. Many young couples jump feet-first into the balloting pool in their rush to score a house without properly considering the possible fiscal consequences. Unfortunately, there aren’t many resources out there that explain the different options available to a young couple who have decided to separate before the marriage ceremony, so we’ve listed down the possible consequences as well as what you can do to minimise the financial impact of letting go of your HDB flat.

When couples break up, the HDB flat is a huge problem

READ: The Financial Guide to Buying Your First HDB Flat

The Fiancé and Fiancée Breaks Up

It might seem cruel but when you and your significant other break up before the flat’s completion, neither of you are allowed to retain the flat. Cruel? Perhaps. But, it’s the HDB’s (practical) way of preventing any possible marriage scams. Also, the both of you aren’t allowed to apply for a new flat or a resale flat with housing grants for the next one year. Again, this is HDB’s practical way of preventing folks with frivolous intentions from queuing up and balloting for a flat.

On the financial front, the both of you will lose the 10 percent downpayment you put up when you applied for the flat. It could be anywhere between S$20,000 and S$50,000. Ouch.

Is there any way to prevent losing the not-so-financially-insignificant downpayment? Short of going ahead with the marriage, there’s nothing that you can do to prevent the cash from going down the drain. There is a way to mitigate this possible outcome – list your parents as co-applicants or occupiers in the flat. Then, you can transfer the ownership of the flat to your parents. Of course, this means discussing this with your significant other.

The scenario above is for a situation when you’ve paid the option and downpayment fees but haven’t gone for the appointment to sign the Agreement of Lease with HDB. However, if everything has been completed and you’re just waiting for the house keys but unfortunately decide to break up, then the financial implications are more devastating.

Everything that you’ve paid for up until that point is forfeited. Most importantly, you have to return the grants that have been given to you, with interest. HDB will mail you a letter to authorise the return of the grants that were put into your CPF and not doing so is tantamount to owing money to the government.

Again, the only way around this is either to go ahead with the marriage or transfer the ownership of the flat to the parents whose names were listed in the application.

Heading for a Divorce after Getting the Flat

The both of you are married in the eyes of the law and staying in the flat but have decided to head to the divorce courts. Both of your names are listed in the flat’s documents. In these cases, the courts are usually the ones who decide on the fate of the HDB flat.

Usually, the courts grant ownership of the flat to the party who retains custody of the child or children.

However, if there are no children in the marriage, the ex-couple can sell the flat in the open market if the Minimum Occupation Period (MOP) of five years has been met. Alternatively, one person can take over the flat if he or she is at least 35-years-old, thanks to the Single Singapore Citizen Scheme.

What happens if the MOP is not met and there are no children in the marriage? The owners will have to return the flat to the HDB and will be given compensation for the flat, which is determined by HDB. According to a HDB spokesperson, the compensation varies according to a few factors:

  • The mode of purchase
  • The occupation period
  • The purchase price
  • The valuation of the flat

The good news is that the financial consequences aren’t as critical as the first scenario. The only payments that you need to fork out might include the lawyer fees and stamp duties, if applicable.

READ: Do the Dead Affect HDB Prices? Nope

A Way to Lessen the Financial Implications

It's best to see a marriage counsellor if you thinking of breaking up and losing the HDB flat

Singaporeans are practical folks and we’ll be willing to put in an insane amount of legwork and hard work just to lessen the financially excruciating impact of a break-up or a divorce.

The best way is to include your parents, either as co-applicants or occupiers. This method gives you the most possible options that you can choose from should things go south in your relationship.

There is another way. It does require you to be legally married but you won’t have to see each other’s faces in the morning – rent the rooms out. This way, you’ll still be earning money from your investment while not having to deal with the emotional fallout from your separation. Do note that you cannot technically rent the whole flat out if the MOP hasn’t been fully met.

Whatever way you choose, understand that the HDB flat is a significant financial and emotional investment, and that if you and your significant other are bickering with each other, it might be financially smarter to see a marriage or relationship counsellor instead.

  • Dear Farhan

    Your article came to my attention as I am currently going through this ordeal. The complexity of this issue has really left me with a major headache. I am one who finds it hard to let go and it feels like a double whammy to my stomach when this happened. I am not so sure that HDB allows your parent(s) to become co-applicant(s) or occupier(s) without letting go of their own flat. Please email me as I would like to know more. Thanks.

  • Hi Farhan,

    Could you email me the details too?
    I would like my mom to be the co-applicant or occupier and I am wondering if them owning a flat would be an issue.

    Much thanks!

  • I am currently going through this ordeal As well! For my case, MOP is not met and there are no children in the marriage. I would like to find out more. Could you email me please. Greatly appreciated.

  • hi, me and my bf broke up and we forfeit the 5%. now he is demanding me to pay his share of cpf because i was the one who initiated the breakup else he will sue me. is this possible? please help!

    • Hi Kara,

      Sorry to hear about your predicament. I’m not trained in law, but as far as I’m aware your boyfriend has no basis for suing you, especially when both of you forfeited your individual share of the downpayment. In the unlikely event he does sue you, please contact an attorney for legal advice.

  • Thanks for the article. I’m currently engaged and gotten a 4 room BTO (1st time applicant priority), and suddenly it seems like we may not get married after all. Flat will be ready in 1-2 years time. Able to drop me an email to advise my options, should we decide not to proceed with the marriage? Many thanks

  • Hi, I would like to know how long the bar period from buying new HDB flat for ex-husband that transfer the ownership to ex-wife (buy over the husband share)? My ex-wife had the joint custody and care and control. Thank you.

  • Dear Farhan,

    Can email me I have the same question as Max. Also as now in spore sole custody is often not given now as joint custody is encouraged so in this instant will the flat be granted to the person with full care and control instead?

  • Hi Farhan,

    Can also email me on the details to add parents as the co-occupier. They still owns their flat so will that be an issue?


  • Hi Farhan,
    Chanced upon your article as I was looking for some advice to my situation. Your article came close to explaining it but it missed out on my scenario.

    I’m married for 5 years with 2 children and been waiting on the flat since 2010, unfortunately things have taken a dip and we are considering a divorce. The flat will be completed this year but my significant other is impatient and wants the divorce asap. Are we still able to get the flat if we get divorced during the waiting period? If we get divorced it has been decided between both of us that it will be a joint custody but with care and control going to my wife. I am still willing to pay for my portion of the flat’s expenses.

    I really want the flat for my children’s future although my wife cannot see it from my point of view.

  • Hi,
    One of the possible options ” parent as the co-applicant” mentioned in your article.
    1. Yes, it is an option available if unforunately between the couple things doesn’t turn out well, however, I was told that once successful applicant Ready to collect their new flat keys, the parent will have to stay together with them which mean parent existing flat will have to sell off.
    2. Can the ownership of the new flat be transfer to another person name before top of the bto?
    3.last min inclusion of the parent name as co-applicant allowed? ( the initial application did not include that.

    Appreciate your advise. Thanks

  • Dear Farhan,

    Can my parent be a co-applicant or occupier? Would they need to give up their current HDB? Am going through this headache now… appreciate your help.

    Thank you for any advice you can offer.

    • Hi Jennifer,

      Yes, your parents can be listed as co-applicants or co-occupiers in the application form. They’ll have to let go of their first flat, but it’s only when the second flat is completed and not immediately.

      Hope this helps!

      • Hi Winnie,

        I didn’t add my parents’ names as co-applicant. Is it still possible to change ownership, taking my ex’s name out and filling it with 1 of my parents’ names instead? My parents planned on living with me in the new place so the old place is already in the works of being sold.

  • Hi,
    If collection of key is done within the 1-2 month, renovation half complete, the couple decided to not to rom and break up, may I know what will happen?

  • Dear Farhan,

    I am stuck in the situation (fiance and finacee break up) where I have made the downpayment for the BTO (all from my account) , but haven’t gone for the appointment to sign the Agreement of Lease with HDB. As its all from my account only, it’s especially painful. I just gotten a notification from HDB that the appointment will happen in July/Aug. My parents are already flat owners of a flat in the vicinity. (we applied for the bto under 1st timers and near to parents priority) . Is there anyway I can salvage this? It’s a double whammy for me because most couples is 50/50 and the loss is equal. Would appreciate your advice.

  • Hi all,

    Just in case you are wondering..hdb does allow us to retain the bto with another party (can be your immediate family or your new partner). But subject to approval I personally went thru the same ordeal…I applied the bto in 2011 with my ex..2 years later we broke off and I had to cancel off the bto. And you know the penalties is a huge sum tho all from your cpf. We even applied for AHG of 25k. All these have to be return with interest. Fortunately, I wrote in to hdb to ask for retain with my new partner (now my husband). Last Monday we signed the transfer of ownership at hdb (all 3 party’s have to be present). Tho the procedure is super draggy and take up a long time..but I am lucky to be the few who can retain. Now we are happily waiting for the keys! Just email or call hdb and ask. I guess there are too many bto that’s why hdb is considering letting people retain it with another applicant.

    Hope these is helpful to those who are going thru the same ordeal.

  • Hi Farhan,

    I am a first timer for BTO application and key collection expected 4th quarter 2015

    I am going to face this ordeal. As my parent has applied 2 times BTO years back. can either one of my parent name to be input into the new co-applicant or occupier for the time being?

    If not, for the meant time, what is the possibility for me to retain the flat by myself first till a later stage?

    • Hi LT,

      Have you paid the option and downpayment fees already and are just waiting for the house keys? If so, I’m sorry to say that everything you’ve paid up to this point will be forfeited, plus you’ll have to return the grant to HDB with interest. Do also note that you’ll be banned from applying for a flat for one year (if you booked your flat after March 2012).

      Retaining your flat is possible only if your parents were originally listed in the application, either as co-applicants or occupiers. That being said, HDB may be willing to make an exception for special cases, so if need be please try contacting them at 6490 1111. Good luck!

      • Hi Winnie, yes now only waiting for house keys
        Noted that all deposit will be forfeited if not going to proceed with marriage.
        No, I did not apply for any grant and I booked my flat after Mar 2012.

        Did call up HDB, and they ask me is there any new partner, I was like..

        HDB also told me my parents not eligible anymore as they had already used up 2 times applying for new flats.

  • If me and my bf got a bto flat and both of us broke up. And I have a new bf, will we be able to get the same bto unit that me and my ex bf had or we have to forfeit everything and reapply again ?

    • Hi Pei,

      Usually in such cases, you would have to forfeit everything and reapply after a year. But feel free to approach HDB for help in making an exception; you never know if you’ll be lucky like Wendy, who managed to retain her BTO successfully. (See her comment above dated 28 June) Good luck!

  • I am going through the same ordeal…i already paid the option fee and signed the agreement of lease..please drop me an email if possible..if there are any other options to minimise the penalty?

  • Hi Farhan,

    I bought a bto flat with my boyfriend in 2011 and have collected the keys to the flat earlier this year. We did not move in as we wanted to renovate and have the customary wedding first. We need to produce the marriage certificate by mar 2016 but we have decided to end our relationship, not get marry anymore.

    I m in a dilemma, pl advise me what will happen to this flat? Thank you.

  • Dear Mr. Farhan,
    My gf was married to a foreigner two years ago and she have applied for a bto. They are both going through a divorce right now. My gf will be getting her flat by next year October. The ex is registered as one of the occupier of the house. They both have a child of 2 years and a Singaporean as well. If my gf gets her divorce by this year, will it affect her future bro flat? Once she has gotten her divorce with her ex, and have remarried me, will I be able to be the 2nd owner of the bto? Need your advice on this please.thanks

  • Hi,
    I have obtained permission to sell my matrimonial home after my divorce before the MOP is met. However, I need a place to stay after that. Am I eligible to purchase a new home (Hdb/private)? It does not make sense as MOP is applied to ensure home owners are genuine in their purchase of subsidized Hdb flats for staying whereas I am not going to have a roof above me after the sales of my flat.

    Can someone offer me sone advice here. Thank you.

  • Hi Farhan, I have applied for an EC with my partner under the fiance/fiancee scheme and TOP is due in less than half a year. It is very likely we will not proceed with marriage. From what I’ve read it seems there is no way for me to avoid losing 20% of the purchase price (which is approximately $180k) to developers. Returning the CPF Housing Grant does not concern me as much. As this was provisioned to me by my parent’s retirement savings, I am in an even bigger predicament but do not want to flog a dead horse nor be unrealistically optimistic. Please advise if there is any way developers could provide leeway in a seemingly hopeless situation.

    Would greatly appreciate any advice you may provide.

    Thank you.

  • Hi Farhan
    Me and my ex-wife divorced 2yrs ago. But we still yet to sell our flat. Lately Im just thinking if is it possible for me to buy over the house under my name solely? After paying my ex-wife share, do i have to refinance the house again or i can still continue w the price that we had buy previously? We had joint custody of the 2 childrens but my ex-wife have full care n control. Do I need to have the care n control too in order to retain the flat? Im 40yrs now n our flat is 10yrs now.

    Im alittle bit confused. Is transfer of ownership and buying/selling over to the exspouse the same??

  • Hi farhan

    My wife and i are going thru a divorce and we have a kid. The care and control goes to her. However, i’m the sole owner for my hdb flat whereas she and my son are just occupier. Currently, the flat had not fufilled the MOP yet. I was wondering how much loss for me if the flat is returned to hdb because she cant take over the flat due to her cpf contribution can’t meet the monthly payment. Pls advise. Thanks.

  • Dear Farhan, I am reading your article. Currently my situation is that I am heading for divorce, and in this midst of divorce proceeding (waiting for next appointment to file divorce at the court after counselling session ended), I receive a letter to collect keys.
    Since I have a 1yr old son in this marriage, my plan is to take over ownership of the flat with full custody of my son.
    Can I go down to hdb, bring along all documents, such as marriage cert/current counselling letter, syariah court papers, my child’s BC, etc and request for HDB to hold on to my house keys until case is over?
    Please, I need some advise.

  • Hi Farhan,

    So transfer ownership to parents will be the only way? If the flat is completed next year last quarter, is it still possible? Do email me with the details!

    Much appreciated!

  • Hey There,

    Seems like many Young Singaporeans are facing the same predicaments as me. It’s good to know that I am not alone here. The psychological, emotional and financial pain is the worst!

    I too am in this situation and me and my ex-fiancée aren’t on talking terms, what’s the next procedure I should go with since I need to forfeit the deposit, flat and also my chance (this is going to be a major turnoff for my next prospective partner).

    Advice please! Thanks in advance 🙂


  • Hi Farhan,

    Kindly guide me. I have to forfeit current BTO flat due to various reason. Kindly let me know how can i do it without asking him to go down with me. Since we are not seeing each other for about a year. How can i settle this by my own? Thanks. Waiting for your reply.

    Kindly email me at sheila8zining@gmail.com

  • May i ask, if my uncle and aunty need to divorce after bto, and uncle will take the house, who else in the family can have joint name to his new flat? Must it be a 35yr old and above candidate or what? Please email as i need some informations. Thank you.

  • Hi Farhan,

    Me and my wife have been married for 5 years and we just got this BTO flat last year June (1 year plus).

    We are in the midst of preparing for divorce and my wife agree to transfer her ownership to me with some compensate from me as i would like to keep the flat.

    However I understand that our flat has not met MOP, is it still possible?
    Please advise me.

  • Hi,

    My spouse and I are getting divorce. But I would like to retain the hdb. However, the hdb has not met the 5 years MOP, we are not above 35 years old, and we have no child. Can my spouse transfer her ownership to my parent by selling it to them? So that i can retain the hdb. Can you kindly advice how can I retain the hdb.

    Much appreciated

  • Hi, my husband and I are married for 3 years and had applied for a BTO back then.
    The flat is due to be completed end of 2016 and keys to be taken.
    But we are going through divorce consideration now.
    Can I still continue to own the BTO when it comes as a 35 yo divorcee?

  • Hello,
    I have a different situation that I would like to ask for your advices.
    My boyfriend is Singaporean, he applied a HDB with his ex-girlfriend, they have broken up, but he has not cancel the flat yet. I am a foreigner , now we want to get marriage. Could you please show me which way we can go through to get another flat ? I appreciate your help
    Thank you so much

  • Hi there. I am also in a similar situation.

    I have been married for 13 years. Can’t live with him anymore due to his behaviour – unable to support the family although he has a full-time job, borrows from loan sharks, gives these loan sharks my number and the list just goes on.’

    We just bought a resale flat in the open market with a housing grant (just moved in 2 weeks ago!). We took a loan from HDB. We have a 13-year old daughter. I also have a 17 year old son from a 1st marriage. I work part-time. I would like to file for a divorce but I want to retain the flat. Is this possible if I have sole custody of my youngest child (I have sole custody of my eldest son from my 1st marriage)?

    I would not be able able to pay the monthly installments for the loan taken from HDB if I continue to work part-time. If I switched to a full-time job and am able to make the monthly payments, can I retain the flat?

    Do I have to pay my husband’s share (from CPF) if I retain the house?

    Please help me. Thanks.

  • we have been legally married for 3.5 years. our bto top date is end of 2016. i am considering a seperation then a divorce. i am 29 this year. i am able to afford the monthly repayment myself but i m not sure if it is possible for,me to keep the bto. my parents have their own flat so I am not sure if I can incude their names without Them having to sell their own flat

  • Hi farhan,
    I am in a very tough predicamament. I took my keys in feb this year with my partner when he promised that he will work something out towards marriage. I have been paying 100 percent for the hdb loan all these while. We are not married. But he is back to his old habits and makes a mockery of me. I have paid almost 80k over for the house from my cpf. In my plight, I wish to cancel the flat. What is the possible penalty that I will go through on this matter. Please advise.

  • Hi
    My BTO flat keys was collected last November and now my wife and I are in the midst of divorce.
    The problem is that she have taken all the important HDB flat’s documents and also the house keys.
    When I asked her to pass me a set of the new flat’s keys, she delinced saying why do I need the keys since the divorce is in the midst.
    Do I have the right as 2nd owner of the flat to keep a set of the flat’s keys?
    Please advise.
    Thanks and regards.

    • Just an addition detail key collection is on Feb 2016 and we are still not married yet.

      There has been great amount of renovations work done already

  • Hi Farhan , I’ve just gotten my 4-room BTO during Feb 2016 and during the time my BF wanted to plan toward marriage which DPP date is Apr 2017, but we just broke up during jan 2018 able to advise if there is possibilities for me to be the sole ownership since I’m over 35 yrs already ?

  • Hi Farhan. I need your advise. Currently I’m staying with my dad in my parent house but my name is existing in my parent home. Last year end my fiance and me applied a resale flat and include my dad as occupier in it. Initially plan is to sell away my parent flat and my dad will stay with us. We had apply for grant too. We have just collected the keys less than a month time. However we have break up recently. I have also ask my agent to on hold any marketing plans for my dads flat. Can you advise what are the possible ways that I can choose to have? What are the necessary procedures that I need to take? Keys being taken less than a months time . Will there be any conveyancy charges need to pay 1st? Thanks

  • Hi,

    My cpf is not enough for the house. Me and my husband are going to collect the key soon. So my question is that we suppose to pay back the grant by cash of deduct by our cpf?

  • Hi Farhan. Can you advise me? Currently I’m staying with my dad in my parent house but my name is existing in my parent home. Last year end my fiance and me applied a resale flat and include my dad as occupier in it. Initially plan is to sell away my parent flat and my dad will stay with us. We had apply for grant too. We have just collected the keys less than a month time. However we have broke up recently. I have also ask my agent to on hold any marketing plans for my dads flat. Keys being collected less than a months time. I will return this resale flat back to hdb. Will there be any conveyancy charges need to pay 1st? Do you know around how much will it cost if there Is?

  • I am currently file for a divorce after my husband has now disappeared and no longer stay at the flat after the court baliff came over to our house to take all the valuables items in the house for his credit card debts. He has stop paying his share of the hdb mortgage 1 year ago. Now, I am the only one paying for the hdb installment by paying my shares and I will on and off pay the outstanding hdb installment due from his share. My 5 Year MOP will only be due in Sept 2019 and there are no children in the marriage. Besides, he also owed me and my mom $65k which I am trying to recover this debt from the divorce proceeding. I would like to find out more what I should do with the HDB now to lessen my financial impact. Could you email me please. Greatly appreciated.

  • Hi Farhan,

    I need some advice. My fiance and I decided to call off our wedding, but we already purchase a HDB Resale now HDB is waiting for our marriage cert. How do I go about returning the HDB resale flat?

    Thank you.

  • Hi Farhan,

    I am going through a divorce and my ex spose would like to keep the flat under the Single singaprean scheme (he became a singaporean last year). We agreed that I will transfer my ownership to him since I am anyway working overseas. In this case, does it means that he will have to put back whatever sum I paid for the house to my cpf? We also had a 30k grant from HDB which was credited into my cpf when we bought the house. Does this mean that I will have to fork out 30k in cash to put back into cpf even though I am not the one keeping the house? I am at loss now. Any advice is helpful here.

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