The Future of Legal Cat Ownership in HDBs
Singapore/ Ohana/ Pets

Explainer: Why Cat Ownership in HDB Flats is a Hot Topic Right Now

Why Cat Ownership in HDB Flats is a Hot Topic Right Now

Many Singaporeans live in a Housing and Development Board (HDB) flat where they’re expected to follow specific rules to live in harmony with their neighbours, and among them is keeping pets. While having a fur baby isn’t completely prohibited, residents are only allowed one small dog from a list of approved breeds. Yes, just one dog. If you plan to keep a beagle or a corgi, you’ll need to live in a private property unit like a condominium.

So, what about cats? Unfortunately, they’re out the question. It has been a rule for more than 30 years that our feline friends aren’t allowed as pets in HDB flats, but that could change soon.

Why Cats Aren't Allowed in HDBs

Cats have been banned in flats since 1989 because according to HDB’s website they’re “generally difficult to contain.” If left to roam around indiscriminately, they tend to shed fur (which is bad news for those with respiratory conditions like asthma) and urinate or defecate in public areas (which means they’ll leave a nasty smell, and somebody needs to clean them up). There’s also the issue of caterwauling sounds, or the high-pitched sound cats make when they’re in heat or are fighting other cats, which can be a nuisance especially at night.

Violators may be fined up to S$4,000, which is the same penalty if a flat owner keeps more than one dog or a dog that isn’t on the list of approved breeds.

Why Do Singaporeans Still Keep a Cat in HDBs

Despite the ban, many Singaporeans have already been keeping a cat (or two) in their HDB flats. It’s just that some residents (and HDB officers) are turning a blind eye to it so long as the cats don’t cause trouble. Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone gets away with it. Several homeowners had received warning notices from the HDB in the past, and you can’t completely blame your neighbours from complaining. They must’ve tolerated the inconveniences at some point and filed a complaint when they couldn’t take it anymore.

While it’s true that it’s against the law to keep cats in an HDB, many owners have been voicing their thoughts that authorities shouldn’t punish everyone, but instead educate the irresponsible ones. After all, no matter how responsible everyone is, one irresponsible owner can sabotage all the efforts of cat lovers and welfare groups to push the legalisation of cat ownership in HDBs.

But how many irresponsible cat owners are there, really? Not a lot.

In a door-to-door survey by Cat Welfare Society (CWS) from April to July 2022, the non-profit found that “responsible cat owners are the overwhelming majority” in Singapore. About 91% have sterilised their pet cats and have been keeping them indoors all the time, and in that percentage around 71% of them take extra steps such as meshing their gates and windows and cat-proofing their homes.

The survey also mentioned that about 90% of HDB non-cat owners who know of neighbours who have cats don’t face any inconveniences at all.

“The problem with making it illegal to keep cats [in HDBs] is there’s very little that people can do when someone keeps their cats irresponsibly. There are no legal means to deal with them, other than hitting them with the law that says they can’t keep cats and fining them. It doesn’t address being irresponsible in the first place,” CWS Commiitte Member Veron Lau said in an interview.

“Having reasonable laws means that we can punish the irresponsible cat owners and not the irresponsible ones, for simply having a cat,” she added.

How the Cat Ban on HDB Flats Might Change Soon

The Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS) announced in early September that they’re seeking feedback from the public on their proposed cat management network, which aims to manage pet and community cats in Singapore. The proposal will focus on three strategies:

  1. To include pet cats in the licensing and microchipping scheme – The AVS can hold any resident accountable for the responsible ownership of their felines, including potential issues like pet abandonment. This will also make it easier to reunite cats with their owners if they’re reported missing or if there are animal disease outbreaks that need to be addressed right away.

  2. To expand the Trap-Neuter-Rehome/Release-Manage (TNRM) Programme for stray dogs to community cats – The TNRM is a five-year programme launched on Nov. 10, 2018, with a goal to manage the population of stray dogs by sterilising then rehoming them. If rehoming isn’t possible, the dogs will instead be released at certain locations where they can roam around freely. Likewise, an expanded TNRM programme for cats will help with the efforts of the Stray Cat Sterilisation Programme (SCSP), which is the most humane method of cat population control.

  3. To promote responsible cat adoption and ownership and community cat caregiving – The AVS will explore new ways and continue to partner with animal welfare groups to promote responsible cat ownership, adoption, and caregiving through engagement and outreach.

All these seem like a good plan for pet and community cats, but among all the categories in the form, one part caught the attention of many Singaporeans:

Cats in HDB flats, AVS survey
Photo by National Parks Board (NParks), The Animal & Veterinary Service (AVS)

The AVS is asking the public if they’re aware that it’s not allowed to keep cats in HDBs, if cats are suitable to be kept as pets, and if they support cat ownership in HDBs. 

Could these questions be a sign that the government is finally considering the possibility of cat ownership in HDB flats? If so, then Singaporeans may not have to hide their feline friends anymore and can live with them officially without the fear of receiving a pet eviction letter one day. After all, if you can keep a small dog, why can’t you keep a cat which is smaller or almost the same size?

The public consultation will run for six months, from September 2022 to March 2023, with the first two months being an online survey available in English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil until Nov. 2.

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