Big houses can accommodate more tenants

The Urban Redevelopment Authority has reduced the cap on unrelated occupiers in a private rental property from eight to six (New cap on tenants for private homes; May 13).

In contrast, the HDB allows six and nine occupants in three- and four-room flats respectively.

This rule could see large landed houses half empty while smaller flats are packed full.

Just imagine, 240 sq m over four three-room flats can accommodate a total of 24 tenants, but a private apartment of that size is allowed to house only six tenants.

It is promoting overcrowding in small units and forcing the under-utilisation of big properties.

The URA said it "simplified the control for greater clarity to the public by not adopting a stratified occupancy cap control based on unit sizes".

However, imposing a minimum living area per occupant, instead of using a random cap per unit, is feasible, as the URA has records of strata areas. For landed properties, plot ratio multiplied by land area can be applied easily.

Houses of 200 sq m to 400 sq m (four to six bedrooms) can comfortably accommodate eight to 10 occupants, allowing 20 sq m to 50 sq m of living space per occupant. This far exceeds the URA's previous benchmark of 10 sq m per occupant.

Eight people can live more cordially in a 250 sq m house with five bedrooms, than six people in a 60 sq m HDB flat with two bedrooms.

Furthermore, occupants of landed properties exit directly onto roads and do not jostle with neighbours for space in lifts or corridors.

Properties are expensive assets. The new rule penalises owners of bigger properties by suppressing their rental returns. Many retirees who own landed properties rely on room rentals.

Perhaps the URA could consider allowing eight to 10 occupants in a landed property, with 20 sq m of space each and a maximum of three occupants in each bedroom leased out.

A "one size fits all" policy is too simplistic. The URA must treat the owners of properties, big or small, equitably.

Chiang Kah Peng (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 13, 2017, with the headline 'Big houses can accommodate more tenants'. Print Edition | Subscribe