New rules on condominium balcony size and width

In the light of a growing trend of oversized condominium balconies, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) moved on Wednesday (Oct 17) to cap balcony sizes for the first time.

The URA will impose a limit on the sizes of balconies in private homes to no more than 15 per cent of the internal floor area of the unit.

Balconies must also now have a minimum width of 1.5m so that the outdoor space can be used meaningfully by residents.

There are no such limits currently. The rules will come in for new condos with development applications submitted after Jan 16 next year, and do not apply to units that are already built.

The URA said it observed that some developments now have excessively large balconies in relation to the size of the unit’s indoor spaces.

“We have also received feedback from home buyers who prefer units without balconies that it is challenging to find such units in the market, especially in new developments,” said URA group director for development control Goh Chin Chin.

Explaining the oversized balcony trend, director at the Institute of Real Estate Studies Sing Tien Foo said developers naturally seek to maximise the amount of gross floor area (GFA) that they are allowed to devote to residential use.

Some do this by designing large balconies, tapping the Balcony Incentive Scheme introduced in 2001.

Currently, the scheme allows developers to enjoy “up to 10 per cent additional GFA beyond the Master Plan Gross Plot Ratio for balconies”. This means that property developers can go beyond their allowable GFA by up to 10 per cent if they devote the bonus space to balconies.

But this gave rise to units which have large balconies and small interiors, which are impractical for residents. It is also common to see new condos that do not offer units without balconies.

This is why the URA has lowered the balcony bonus cap from 10 per cent to 7 per cent.

The scheme was originally intended to encourage developers to provide outdoor spaces to residents and a better quality of living.

Associate Professor Sing said: “Cutting out this bonus completely is not a good idea because you get the other end of the spectrum where you compromise liveability.”

Meanwhile, home buyers are still paying for each square foot of space, whether indoors or outdoors.

Balconies appeal more to investor-type buyers, which could be why developers tend to build large balconies to capture a different group of buyers.

The URA said developers can still achieve the 10 per cent bonus by using other incentive schemes, such as the new bonus GFA scheme for indoor recreational spaces, where the cap is 1 per cent.

To begin immediately, this new scheme is intended to encourage spaces that allow more communal interaction among residents, such as gyms, function rooms, libraries, game rooms and reading rooms.

ERA Realty key executive officer Eugene Lim said developers will have to be more efficient in laying out their units now, given the lower balcony bonus.

Prof Sing added that developers are unlikely to be happy with the URA rule revisions.

Two property developers declined comment when asked about the new rules, while another did not respond by press time.

The URA also said developers are now required to inform home buyers at the point of purchase what balcony screens they are allowed to install.

This addresses another common complaint arising from misunderstandings over the use of balconies, said Prof Sing.

Some home buyers are sold on the idea that they can convert their large balconies into an extra room by enclosing them in balcony screens, not knowing that developers must seek design approval for the screens from the URA first, he said.

Adapted from: The Straits Times, 18 October 2018