Copywriting for the types of business that can be operated from a HDB flat

Here’s the thing about HDB flats that a lot of you probably don’t know: you can operate a legit home business from your HDB flat in Singapore provided it meets certain criteria. It’s called the Home Office Scheme. Let me say it again: it’s perfectly legal to do so. And you can even use your HDB address as the official address of your business instead of renting a virtual office or a P.O Box.

Operating a business from home is a great way to bootstrap. And in these uncertain times, your HDB can provide you with more value than mere price appreciation – it gives you a free place (and address) for you to start and operate a business without having to incur additional rent.

What is the Home Office Scheme?

Under the Home Office Scheme, home owners, tenants or occupants of residential properties can set up small-scale offices in their homes as long as they satisfy the following criteria:

  1. The premises is used by its occupants primarily for residential purposes with part or parts of the premises being used by the occupants as an office.
  2. The number of non-residents (including employees, partners and directors) engaged in the business at the Home Office unit is limited to a maximum of two.
  3. Owners must take every care to ensure that the activities of their business do not cause disturbance to the neighbours or the residential neighbourhood. As such, the businesses allowed must satisfy the performance criteria (see below on performance criteria).
  4. The business must not fall under the list of businesses not permitted under the Home Office scheme.
  5. There is no display of business signage outside the residential premises.
  6. The use may be terminated if the business results in disamenity to the environment and complaints from neighbouring residents.
  7. The change in use of the relevant premises does not result in any increase in the floor area of the building.
  8. No part of the relevant premises comprises works that are unauthorised under the Planning Act.
  9. Any approval required from any other relevant authority for the change in use of the relevant premises has been obtained prior to making the change in the use of the relevant premises.
  10. Where the person lodging the registration form is not the owner of the relevant premises, the prior written consent of the owner of the relevant premises has been obtained for the lodgement of the registration form.
  11. The use of the relevant premise as a Home Office shall be reverted back to residential use when the HO use ceases or if the HO permit is revoked due to a breach in conditions or guidelines.

Point 10 above indicates that even if you are only renting the HDB flat (or room), you can still qualify for the Home Office Scheme as long as you obtain written consent from your landlord.

Performance Criteria

You must also observe the following performance criteria once you’ve obtained permission to operate under the Home Office Scheme:

  1. The person(s) conducting the business must continue to use the residential unit as his place of residence. The business activities must be confined wholly within the premises.
  2. The business must not generate noise, smoke, odour, effluent or dust that could cause more nuisance than is normally expected from the use of the premises for residential purposes. Examples are excessive noise from the use of equipment or appliances required in the business; smoke, odour and effluent as a result of preparation, processing and manufacturing of products.
  3. The business activities must not be illegal or unlawful. It also must not have any bad and immoral influences (e.g. gambling or pornography related activities).
  4. The business activities must not introduce extraneous human or vehicular traffic to the surrounding neighbourhood.
  5. There must be no solicitation of business that may cause annoyance to the residents or public, i.e. distribution of brochures, flyers or door-to-door visitations. There should be no selling of physical goods.
  6. There must be no advertisements or posters displayed.
  7. The applicant must take all necessary safety precautions and ensure that the business activities do not pose any danger to human lives or damage to properties.
  8. Consumption of electricity and structural load must not exceed the normal (residential) load. Storage and use of dangerous chemicals and hazardous substances are strictly prohibited.
  9. The business activities must not adversely affect the character, ambience and environment of the residential estate.
  10. Where necessary, the business must comply with the regulations of other government authorities and relevant licences/approvals must be obtained before commencement of business. To search for the licences/approvals that may be required for the business, the applicant can go to GoBusiness Licensing Portal.

Permissible & Non-Permissible Businesses for Home Office Scheme

Permissible Businesses

The question, thus, is what types of businesses are eligible to operate under this Home Office Scheme? Here’s quoting from URA’s (Urban Redevelopment Authority) website directly:

  1. Accountancy services
  2. Architectural services
  3. Consultancy services (business, engineering, IT, management or education)
  4. Design/Advertising services
  5. Insurance/Financial planning services
  6. Real estate agencies
  7. Technology based and knowledge intensive businesses
  8. Trading office

Based on this author’s personal experience, businesses not listed in the “Non-permitted businesses for Home Office Scheme” and meet the terms and conditions can apply, and often, approvals are easily obtained.

Non-Permissible Businesses

These businesses are listed as non-permitted businesses for Home Office Scheme:

  1. Beauty, hair dressing or massage therapy services
  2. Contractors Business
  3. Car trading business
  4. Card reading/palm reading or fortune telling in any form
  5. Catering/restaurants
  6. Clinics and pharmacies (e.g. dental, medical, veterinary)
  7. Commercial school (e.g. dance, music, language, tuition centre)
  8. Courier business
  9. Classes on dress-making and embroidery
  10. Employment agency
  11. Funeral chapels or homes
  12. Maid agency
  13. Mausoleums
  14. Manufacturing, preparation or processing of any products and goods
  15. Money lending businesses
  16. Opticians
  17. Repair activities (e.g. household appliances, electrical products, footwear, etc.)
  18. Sales/marketing that involves conducting seminars and talks for large number of customers
  19. Shops and any form of retail activity, including pet shops

If your business falls under non-permissible category, you can still use your HDB flat as an administrative office, or as the address for business registration with ACRA. However, you still cannot use your home office to store goods.

How Do I Apply for Home Office Scheme?

You can apply for your licence for Home Office Scheme via LicenceOne. You can apply either before or after you have registered your business with ACRA (Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority)*. If you apply before registering your business, select your profile as “Individual (I am an applicant not representing any company or applying on behalf of any other people)” before you complete the application. Be sure to have your SingPass and a credit card for the payment of a $20 non-refundable administration fee ready.

Your licence is valid for five years. HDB will send you a renewal notification before the expiry date. If you wish to continue operating your home office, you’ll need to renew your licence via LicenceOne.

*For more information on registering a business in Singapore, please read our article here.

About the Writer:

Judy Tham is a writer and founder of One Elephant, a copywriting firm in Singapore. She co-authored Are You Brand Dead?, one of the few books on branding in Asia that focuses on SMEs.