5 Common Landlord and Tenant Dispute In Singapore
Tenancy disputes between a landlord and their tenant are one of the most prevalent types of disputes in Singapore. They may present as a minor inconvenience and evolve into a court case that takes a long time to be resolved.
We discuss the most common types of tenancy disputes in Singapore and the means in which to resolve them.
1 – Failure To Pay Rent
Failing to pay rent is one of the top common disputes between landlords and tenants in Singapore. As per the lease agreement, a tenant is obliged to pay rent on a stipulated day.
Following a tenant’s failure to pay rent a landlord may sue the tenant for breach of the lease contract.
Depending on the clause of the lease agreement, the landlord may, after obtaining appropriate legal advice, may wish to attempt to;
- Obtain an order to recover possession of the premises
- Re-enter the premises and forfeit the lease assuming the tenant has not paid rent for at least 30 days
- Exercise the right to distress and seize goods to sell
The landlord may also reserve the right to forfeit the deposit in full or in part, according to the terms of the lease agreement.
2 – Damages Caused To Premises
Most lease agreements will include a stipulation that the tenant cannot damage the property during the duration of the lease.
Potential tenants must inspect the rental property to ensure that it is in good condition before moving in and that any damages are reported so that these damages will not be prescribed to an innocent tenant.
A landlord can take legal recourse should a tenant cause damage to the premises which may (depending on the clause of the tenancy agreement) include:-
- Suing the tenant for breach of the lease contract
- Obtain an order to recover possession of the premises
- Re-enter the premises and forfeit the lease
When a tenant has caused damage to the property, the landlord may obtain an order from the Court to seek compensation from the tenant.
3 – Refusal To Leave After Lease Termination
A tenant may continue to occupy the premises even after the tenancy agreement has been terminated, this is also known as a ‘holding over’.
In this scenario the landlord can either charge the tenant double the amount of the agreed upon rent until the tenant leaves or double the value of the property in which the tenant has stayed in.
The landlord should notify the tenant of the expiry and/or the termination of the lease in writing to ensure proper record is kept.
4 – Subletting Of Premises To A 3rd Party
Even though most lease agreements include a clause forbidding tenants to sublet or assign their lease to a 3rd party without express consent from the landlord, there are tenants who violate this clause.
Illegal subletting is a breach of contract and the landlord can apply to the Court to recover possession of the premises if the tenant sublets the premises and assigns the lease to a 3rd party and receives rent which exceeds either what may be recoverable for that portion or 110% of what needs to be paid to the landlord in total.
The order or judgment for recovery of possession is generally not enforceable against the sub-tenant unless the court is satisfied that the tenant was prohibited by the terms of the tenancy agreement from subletting or the sub-tenant has used the premises for illegal or immoral purposes.
5 – Withholding Deposit By Landlords
There have been many cases in Singapore of errant landlords refusing to return their tenants security deposit despite the tenant having fully adhered to the terms in the tenancy agreement.
In such a scenario the tenant can ask the landlord to substantiate his reasons in writing and to provide evidence for deductions with the provision of receipts or invoices.
If the landlord fails to substantiate his decision a tenant can engage a lawyer to send a letter of demand which will set out a list of demands for the landlord to comply with, failing which legal action will be commenced upon.
Tenants may also choose to file a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal if the security deposit fee does not exceed $20,000.
Legal Recourse Available
We will now elaborate on the legal recourse available to landlords in these disputes.
As a tenancy agreement or a lease agreement is a contract between the landlord and tenant, the failure of the tenant to adhere to the clauses of the contract will be a breach of contract, allowing for the landlord to sue the tenant.
However, it is important to note that the burden of proving that the tenant has failed to fulfil the obligations in the lease agreement lies on the landlord.
If it is established that the tenant has failed to fulfil those obligations the Court will find the tenant liable and award damages based on actual losses suffered to the landlord.
Recovery of Premises
Subject to the tenancy agreement, the landlord may apply to the Court to obtain an order or judgment for the recovery of the premises should the tenant:
- Fail to pay rent due;
- Cause damage to the property;
- Sublet or assigned the property without consent from the landlord and got paid by the subleter more than what should have been paid for the sublet or assigned portion.
The landlord will have the right to forfeit the lease if the tenant does not pay rent or has caused damages to the property. Termination of the lease will take place once the landlord re-enters the premises.
In the scenario that the lease does not have a clause expressly reserving the right of the landlord to forfeit the lease, the law will regard that the right has been provided for given that the rent has not been paid and has been due for 30 days or more
The tenant may apply to the court for relief against forfeiture of the lease when the landlord commences on a legal action. For failure to pay rent, the tenant may only apply for relief if all rent owed and the cost of legal action undertaken by the landlord is paid.
Exercise Right To Distress To Seize Goods To Sell
The landlord may exercise his right to distress to seize goods to sell. To undertake this course of action the landlord can apply to the court for a writ of distress to claim a maximum of 12 months of owed rent.
However, the onus is on the landlord to act swiftly and delay claiming the arrears. It is important to note that the landlord cannot personally seize the tenants’ belongings just because the tenant fails to pay rent.
Once the Court application is granted, a writ of distress will be granted and an enforcement officer of the Court known as the Sheriff will seize any movable property found by him on the premises.
The writ of distress and notice of seizure of goods must be sent to the defaulting tenant to notify him of the seizure and the sale of his goods and he should pay the amount due within 5 days.
The tenant may apply to Court for a restraining order against the sale of his goods.
Should the tenant not reply or pay the amount due or obtain an order to restrain sale, the landlord can then exercise his option to sell off the goods.
The money from the sale of the tenant’s belongings will be used first to pay the aforementioned Sheriff and the remainder will be paid to the landlord for rent.
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