This 5-Room HDB Flat Burned Down, Cost The Homeowners $60K In Damages

21 December 2023 | BY

In the wee hours of 19th June, Tom’s life was turned around when he woke up to his altar in flames.

hdb fire insurance

It’s safe to say that a fire breaking out at home is one of the worst nightmares for any homeowner. And for Tom and his parents, that was their reality in the wee hours of 19th June when their flat burned down. A fire had broken out by their prayer altar and quickly spread throughout their 5-room HDB flat in Jurong, turning their lives upside down in minutes.

Firefighters arrived at the scene quickly and managed to put out the blaze before it could reach the neighbours, but the flames had already ravaged their home. The walls and ceiling were covered with ash, floor tiles were cracked all over the place, and the majority of their worldly belongings had been destroyed – save for a marble table in their living room which Tom cheekily said was the “best investment ever.” 

Fire insurance not up to date, incurred $60K of damages

burned down hdb flatImage credit: Tom Goh

When the dust settled, Tom and his family returned to the flat to salvage what they could before contacting HDB to see if they had any recourse. They were temporarily put up in a 1-bedroom flat with rent waived for 2 months while their home in Jurong West was restored to its original glory. But that was all that HDB could do for them, as it was also only after the fire that they found out their fire insurance had lapsed.

The realisation that they had to foot the entire bill of the restoration hit Tom and his family hard. Even appeals to their town council went nowhere as it didn’t fall under their jurisdiction. Most of all, they were confused as they were under the impression that their fire insurance policy would be renewed automatically every 5 years, especially since they had an ongoing loan with HDB.

Image credit: Tom Goh

After many calls with multiple departments within HDB, Tom and his parents decided to take matters into their own hands so that they could go back to living in their home. They also had the good fortune of having great friends and family who rallied around them, helping them clean up, paint and clean.

For the larger restoration works – like replacing the broken tiles on the floor – they had to fork out around $40K for a contractor to get it professionally done. They also spent another $20K on new furniture, rewiring the home, and replacing appliances destroyed in the fire like lights and fans. 

Things you need to know about HDB’s fire insurance

Here’s what you need to know about HDB fire insurance and home insurance so you don’t have to add another layer of stress if – touch wood – your HDB flat catches fire.

1. Those with outstanding HDB loans must have HDB fire insurance

In case you didn’t already know, if you have an outstanding loan with HDB, you must have an HDB fire insurance policy active. HDB’s fire insurance policy will cover the reparation of any damaged internal structures, fixtures, as well as common areas that were built and provided by HDB. The current appointed treasurer is FWD Singapore, just so you know.

hdb fire insurance scheme

It also helps that the premiums for HDB fire insurance are publicly available and are all things considered pretty affordable. 

2. HDB’s fire insurance must be renewed every 5 years

three people applying for fire insuranceImage credit: TheSmartLocal

While it’s a good habit to always check on your insurance policies to ensure that they don’t lapse, sometimes things slip through the cracks – especially for long-term policies like the HDB fire insurance which only has to be renewed every 5 years. And in Tom’s case, the worst case scenario happened during this unfortunate window.

Since the incident, Tom has been advising his friends – and you! – to set up a GIRO payment for your fire insurance policy so that there’s never a period that it’s not up to date. You can also check the validity of your HDB fire insurance by checking with HDB’s e-service (don’t be worried if it doesn’t reflect on the portal immediately if you only just bought it).

According to HDB officials, auto-renewals for HDB fire insurance can also be set up, albeit with an administrative fee of 3%. But when the policy itself costs as much as – or even less – than a set meal at Ya Kun, the 3% fee is more than worth it for a peace of mind.

3. HDB fire insurance only insures the flat, not your belongings

It might be confusing, but HDB’s fire insurance only covers the structure of your HDB flat, the fixtures, and fittings. In Tom’s case, this would’ve meant that HDB would cover the costs of fixing his floor tiles, windows, and ceiling up to $97,300 if he had renewed his fire insurance policy.

But that’s where the line is drawn. Fire insurance does not cover all your possessions and whatever barang you might have. That will come under the purview of home insurance instead, which is usually sold separately from HDB’s fire insurance.

While you have to buy the HDB fire insurance policy with FWD Singapore, you’re free to choose any insurance provider for your home insurance policy. It’s also an optional, but highly recommended,

4. Home insurance will cover your contents in the case of a fire

lady with a lot of bagsImage credit: TheSmartLocal

There are 2 main types of home insurance: insured perils and all risks. Fires are usually included under insured perils – as are flooding due to burst pipes and thefts by violent entry, so we’ll just talk about that. However, you should check with your insurance advisor on what exactly is covered in your policy. Some good questions to ask are:

  • Is the cost of my renovation insured?
  • Will I have to pay for any damage to my neighbour’s property?
  • Where will we stay as our home is being repaired?
  • Do I have to itemise all of my belongings to be compensated?

hdb flatsImage credit: TheSmartLocal

In a moment of crisis, it’s natural to only think about your home and how your life might be going up in flames. And not to sound like a Debbie Downer, but the homes of your neighbours might have also been affected during the fire, especially by the smoke billowing out through your doors and windows.

While HDB fire insurance does not cover any damage caused to your neighbours’ homes,  those who are covered by home insurance can file a claim to compensate them for any damage or losses. After all, you’d want to have them on your side, especially during trying times like these.

What to know about HDBs & fire insurance in Singapore

No one wants to think about their homes burning down. And try as we might to prevent a spark from turning into an inferno, the inevitable can still happen, just like it did to Tom and his family. In the best-case scenario, your household makes it out unscathed and the fire is contained with only a few pieces of furniture being lost to the blaze. Still, you’d want to ensure that you have the proper HDB fire insurance and home insurance coverage so you don’t have to stress even more should a fire break out in your home.

Tom also recommends printing out your insurance policies and keeping them safe as well as having them ready in your email or documents folder.  

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Cover image credit: Tom Goh

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