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Demystifying URA Caveats: A Comprehensive Guide for Singapore Property Buyers

Introduction to URA Property Caveats

In Singapore, a property caveat is a formally registered document filed with the Singapore Land Authority (SLA) by a person claiming an interest in a property.

Put simply, think of a property caveat like a legal lock on a house.

Someone who claims an interest in the property can place this lock with the government to prevent the owner from selling it until their claim is addressed. The "locker" is called the caveator, and the homeowner on the receiving end is the caveatee.

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If you’re curious, we have a guide on how to analyze private property transactions to find good property investments.

Why lodge a caveat on a property?

Lodging a caveat on a property in Singapore is like putting a legal "hold" on it. You're essentially telling the world "there's something I need to sort out before anyone else can deal with this property." This is especially useful for buyers who've paid a deposit and signed an agreement (Option to Purchase or sale / purchase) but haven't completed the transaction. The caveat acts as a warning sign, stopping anyone else from buying or selling the property until your claim is addressed.

But caveats aren't just for buyers. Anyone with a legitimate interest in the property can use them, like:

  • Banks: To protect their loan by placing a caveat on the property they're financing.
  • CPF: When you use CPF funds for the purchase, they might lodge a caveat as a safeguard.
  • Tenants: To ensure their tenancy rights are respected (esp. during lease renewals).
  • Anyone else with a legal claim: Think inheritors, creditors, or people with easements (rights to use parts of the property).

When is a caveat usually lodged?

In Singapore, the property conveyancing process typically involves the following key steps:

  • The process starts when the buyer of the property receives an OTP. An OTP is issued by the seller to the buyer, granting the buyer the option to purchase the property at an agreed price.
  • If the buyer decides to accept and exercise the OTP, the buyer has to pay the option money to the seller, in exchange for the right to purchase the property within the stipulated amount of time at the agreed price.
  • After the exercise of the OTP, the buyer’s conveyancing lawyers will usually carry out additional checks on the property, and when the buyer is satisfied with the conditions of the sale and purchase, the buyer will make arrangements for the balance of the agreed price to be transferred to the seller (usually through the seller’s lawyers).
  • At the final stage – i.e., the completion stage – the seller will transfer possession of the property to the buyer, along with the necessary paperwork to transfer the title of the property to the buyer, and the balance monies will be transferred to the seller.
  • The buyer’s caveat is usually lodged after the second stage, since that is the time when the buyer acquires an interest in the property.

What is the Process For Lodging a Caveat in Singapore?

Caveats are lodged with the Land Titles Registry of the SLA, using the prescribed form available at the Singapore Titles Automated Registration System (STARS) eLodgment portal. This is typically done by conveyancing lawyers on behalf of the caveator, as conveyancing lawyers have access to the STARS eLodgment portal through a lodgement account.

The following information from the caveator and the conveyancing lawyer is required to fill in the prescribed form:

  • Party Information: This comprises the particulars of the caveator, the caveatee, and the registered proprietor.
  • Property Information: This includes a description of the property that is the subject of the caveat, and the details of the land plot or unit in question.
  • Claim Details: This refers to the grounds of the caveator’s claim to the caveat and the interest claimed by the caveator. Such grounds include the OTP which has been exercised by the caveator and/or a sale and purchase agreement. The application to lodge a caveat is chargeable at $64.45 (including GST) per application. This includes the cost of sending the notice to the caveatee but excludes the conveyancing lawyer’s fees for lodging or extending the caveat on the caveator’s behalf.

Once a caveat is lodged and accepted by SLA, SLA will notify the caveatee of this, and the caveat takes immediate effect from the date of its lodgment. Lodging a caveat makes certain transaction details, including the sale price, publicly accessible through the URA's website and are therefore often known as URA caveats

How Long Does a Caveat Last?

A caveat that has been successfully lodged is valid for 5 years from the date of its lodgment. However, it is possible for the caveat to lapse and cease to affect the property even before the expiry of the 5-year general validity period.

It is important to note that a caveator’s interest in the property will only be protected if the caveator satisfies all legal requirements and obligations. More importantly, the caveat must be lodged in a timely manner to protect the caveator’s interest.

Overall, lodging a caveat is a helpful measure to protect your interest in a property. It is also essential to have the right legal advice and work with an experienced conveyancing lawyer to ensure that all legal obligations are met and that the caveat application process is successful.

How Do I Extend a Caveat?

To extend a caveat before it expires, the caveator's conveyancing lawyer can apply for an extension through the STARS eLodgment portal. They must submit a form, which can be found here. It's important to note that the interest claimed in the extension must match the existing caveat. If not, the extension will not be accepted.

For example, if the existing caveat claims the interest of a property buyer, the extension must also be based on that interest. Once the extension application is accepted by the SLA, the caveat will remain valid for an additional 5 years from the date of lodgment. The cost to extend a caveat is $64.45 per application and includes sending a notice to the caveatee. However, the conveyancing lawyer's fees for lodging or extending the caveat are not included.

Can I withdraw a lodged caveat?

Yes, a caveat can be withdrawn either for the entire property or for a specific portion of the property. To withdraw a caveat, the caveator needs to submit the relevant form through the STARS eLodgment portal.

Typically, lawyers handle this process on behalf of the caveator. You can find a sample of the withdrawal form here.

What Happens If My Application to Lodge a Caveat is Unsuccessful?

If your application to lodge a caveat is unsuccessful, the SLA will notify you. If your application is rejected because it is deficient, the SLA will also inform you of the specific areas where your application needs improvement.

Some examples of deficiencies include providing incorrect or inaccurate information or having grounds for your claim as a caveator that are deemed unacceptable.

In this situation, you will have 14 days from the SLA's notification to rectify the caveat. Otherwise, your application will be considered withdrawn.

What If I Wish to Buy a Property That has a Caveat On It?

If you're planning to buy a property with a caveat on it, there are a few things you can do. Before completing the purchase, the property agents or conveyancing lawyers involved usually perform a title search to check for any existing caveats on the property.

This search looks at the current legal owner and any claims made on the property. You can also do a title search yourself through SLA's INLIS website for a fee of $5.25. Alternatively, you can use URA's website to find information on private residential property transactions.

If you find that the property you want to buy has a caveat, you can negotiate with the owner to address the situation. You can either apply to the court to have the caveat removed or cancel the caveat through SLA if it was lodged vexatiously or frivolously. The caveator will be notified and given 30 days to obtain a court order to keep the caveat on the land register.

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