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Tenancy agreements/leases and your rights as a tenant

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Tenancy agreements/leases and your rights as a tenant

Postby jpatokal » Fri, 29 May 2009 10:07 am

Some advice for people signing leases (tenancy agreements) in Singapore, culled from the collective wisdom and experience of forumers. Comments, corrections and suggestions for additions welcome!

Contract

In general, the law in Singapore is very much biased in favor of the landlord. Basically, in a court of law, if the right is not explicitly written into the contract, the tenant does not have it. Now, most landlords are perfectly reasonable and you'll have no problems whatsoever -- but a well-written contract will help prepare you for the worst case.

Virtually all leases in Singapore use the same boilerplate agreement, and it's worth changing at the least the following in it (list courtesy of Nath21):

* Security deposit is only used in relation to damages to the property or unpaid rents (they tend to say for non performance of tenancy agreement here which means they can just keep you deposit even if it doesn't relate to damages or rent, ie. such as not getting the air conditioner cleaned quarterly or see next point);
* Deleting 'immoral' activities from the wording as they can say anything to get you out with that in (illegal is fine but how do you define immoral?);
* Advising you in writing first before deducting amount from you deposit;
* Paying back your deposit within 14 days;
* Ensuring both parties have no more claims upon each other after the handback evaluation is completed;
* Limiting per annum the amount I paid for minor repairs (you are usually responsible for the first $150 but say the fridge, air conditoner, oven all break this can add up fast;
* Being able to choose your own maintenance people (sometimes they say in the contract it must be with a certain company) if they dodge you and they often do you are stuck;
* Making sure you have something like "made all reasonable attempts to pay by the clearly communicated rental payment arrangement" - it has happened where they change the bank details and you default the payment and they keep your security deposit and kick you out if they want;
* Get a diplomatic clause (only applies for 2 year contracts). If you leave early after one year you pay 2 months extra only, know they will probably keep your bond as well so make sure this is spelled out as well;
* Take out clauses that you cannot possibly perform. I had one in about insurance and I said to comply I needed to see copy of the insurance otherwise how do I know what I have to comply with and the term was immediately withdrawn;
* Landlord/agent may only visit your apartment with prior permission from you. Otherwise, if they're selling the apt or looking for a new tenant, random strangers will be ramping through at all hours.

When you request these changes, landlords and agents may attempt to dismiss them by saying that they're a part of the standard agreement and/or meaningless and/or nobody ever objected before. Stand your ground; all the changes are reasonable and they will give way.

And a final note: some leases split the rental cost into two parts, one for the apartment and the other for furnishings. Previously, this arrangement reduced the landlord's taxes, although the loophole has since been closed. In either case, it has no impact on the tenant.

Handover

Some landlords attempt to change the terms in the tenancy agreement between the date you sign the letter of intent and the day you move in, figuring that you're their hostage after you've already moved in. The best prevention is to sign the agreement before you move in, but if you find yourself trapped, do not give into blackmail -- the agreement is not binding on you either until it's signed. (For face-saving purposes, though, you may want to give in on a minor point or two.)

The contract should state you get 30 days to bring to attention of the landlord any defects in the apartment, including blown lights etc. It's the landlord's responsibility to fix all of these at their cost. Document all problems found in writing and add it to the handback condition assessment.

Take detailed pictures of the apartment. Burn two copies on CD/DVD, note the date, and give one copy to the landlord. If you want to be really safe, note model numbers and brands for applicances.

Lease renewal

Most leases in Singapore are written as one-year leases with the option to extend by one more year. The landlord can and will change the rental price when renewal day comes up. All things considered, you can expect to be able to negotiate a small reduction if you've been good tenants, but in Singapore's rollercoaster property market the price can still swing wildly.

Your agent may wish to get a cut of the renewed lease as well, even though they did absolutely zero extra work for this. Make clear, in writing, whether you, the landlord, or anybody will pay the agent's fee. If landlord and tenant are happy with each other and the lease allows this, it's not uncommon to cut out the agent entirely, deal directly and save the money.

If there is a previous tenancy agreement, a lease can be renewed under the same conditions with a simple letter saying so, signed by both landlord and tenant. However, even this letter has to be duty stamped.

Early termination

Diplomatic clauses allow early lease termination after a fixed period (usually 14 months on a two-year contract). If you have no diplomatic clause and wish to/forced to terminate the lease earlier, you are theoretically required to pay out the entire remainder of the lease.

In practice, most landlords will be fine if you can find a tenant to take over at the same price, but a few greedy ones will not accept this. In this situation, many expats (especially those leaving the country) opt to simply cut and run, forfeiting their security deposit. Needless to say, this is a breach of contract and the landlord can -- in theory -- sue you to recover the rest.

Handing back the apartment

Cases of landlords refusing to repay deposits or making massive deductions on spurious grounds (retiling an entire floor because of a single chipped corner etc) are regrettably common. Prevention is the best cure here: document the state of the apartment before you move in and ensure the deposit returning rules are laid out in the contract.

You may be advised by friends to withhold the last month's rent in lieu of the deposit. However, this is explicitly forbidden by most lease agreements and the landlord can legally kick you out of the apartment after a single week's delay in the rental payment, so don't resort to this without considering the consequences.

In the case of an unresolvable dispute, the best avenue for legal resolution is the Small Claims Tribunal. If no longer in Singapore, you can appoint a friend to act on your behalf, and quite often the mere threat of bringing the issue to court will magically improve the landlord's behavior.
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Postby aargon » Mon, 07 Dec 2009 8:05 pm

who pays for stamp duty costs? tenant or the landlord?

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Postby aargon » Mon, 07 Dec 2009 8:07 pm

and why am i the only person to have replied in this thread after 6 months since it was written? :???:

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Postby jpatokal » Wed, 13 Jan 2010 11:35 am

Normally the tenant pays the stamp duty, but it's the agent/landlord's duty to actually handle the stamping, and the tenant should get a copy of the receipt to prove that it's been done.
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Postby macaroonie » Tue, 02 Feb 2010 5:39 pm

With the diplomatic clause, is it enough that the contract says the diplomatic clause can be exercised after 6 months (with 2 months notification period).

Is it a given that the deposit will returned if i tell them i am moving out after 6 months and 1 day - or does the contract really need to specify that 'the deposit will be returned in full if the diplomatic clause is exercised'?

Thanks!

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Postby jpatokal » Wed, 03 Feb 2010 2:01 pm

macaroonie wrote:With the diplomatic clause, is it enough that the contract says the diplomatic clause can be exercised after 6 months (with 2 months notification period).

That's what the diplomatic clause means, no? The whole point of the deposit is that you lose it if you unilaterally terminate your lease and/or trash the place.

Is it a given that the deposit will returned if i tell them i am moving out after 6 months and 1 day - or does the contract really need to specify that 'the deposit will be returned in full if the diplomatic clause is exercised'?

You can't ask for it to be returned "in full", because you may have stolen the fridge and practiced your sledgehammer skills on the living room wall...
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Postby megha » Wed, 03 Feb 2010 3:08 pm

Hi, Need some advise. We moved our apartment in the beginning of Jan. I had good relations with the landlord's agent and since i was travelling until one week before the move, I requested the agent if she could get the curtains dry cleaned for me and I would pay the amount and she agreed.

When it was time for handover, the landlord brought a contractor as she wanted to repaint the house.

Now when we got our refund of the deposit by mail we saw that the landlord has deducted 1000$ for the curtains!! $550 to dryclean the curtains..and $450 for new curtains as the laundry could not remove stain from one of the bedroom curtain. And its not a laundry invoice..its a invoice of the same contractor she got for painting work...Now the agent says she has no say in the matter and the landlord says that we should have dry cleaned the curtains!!

Even one bathroom tap was a bit wobbly..we had never even noticed it earlier as it was working fine and it really wasnt that big deal...but they charged us $180 for new mixture & piping..again same contractor's invoice.

We took the unit totally unfurnished..so they had no where else they cld
deduct so curtains & tap!!

We dont have the owner's details so we wrote a letter to the owner & sent it to her agent...its been 10 days now and the agent said last week that she is unable to contact the landlord and the letter is still with her. as if she wont have her email address..and last few days she doesnt take my call...I tried calling from another number but she just claimed I cant hear you & hung up...

Is it allowed for the landlord to charge us any rate they feel or is it to be done at a fair market rate? Even if money was not an issue, I hate being taken for a ride like that..Is it possible to get a fair settlement? The agent told me to go to the subordinate court... Has anyone ever tried it? Is it easy & fair??

Have you or your friends ever tried the subordinate court? Whom should I file a claim against? Landlord or her agent since I dont have landlord's details and the agent is telling me she doesnt live in Singapore...
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Postby macaroonie » Wed, 03 Feb 2010 5:27 pm

What i meant was that is it enough that the diplomatic clause says it can be exercised after 6 months.

And is it a given that the deposit will be returned in full minus any damages the tenant may have made to the property, after the diplomatic clause has been exercised (eg 6 months and 2 weeks). OR should it be specified right after the diplomatic clause, that the the deposit minus damages to the property caused by the tenant, be refunded in full

Is that a bit clearer now??
Thanks heaps

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Postby macaroonie » Wed, 03 Feb 2010 5:29 pm

Megha, it sounds like you have been taken for a ride. Poor thing! :(

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Postby sundaymorningstaple » Wed, 03 Feb 2010 5:51 pm

Hence my admonishment to take photos of any & everything that could be construed to have been caused by you during your tenancy. What has happened to the poster is a common occurrence here. If it isn't perfect or brand new, be sure to take photos of it because if you don't, the landlord will most probably say you did it and deduct that from your deposit. The landlords don't look at it as a deposit but as a gift and normally have no intention of giving it back.

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Postby macaroonie » Thu, 04 Feb 2010 10:17 am

Megha
Did you have in your contract that they need to notify you in writing before deducting anything from the deposit?

I would take this up with CASE, from what i read on this forum, it is not a complicated thing to do and you really sound like you have been taken for a ride. I don't think painting the place has anything to do with damage to the property (unless you of course defaced the walls - but it doesn't sound like you did).

Good luck and let us know how you go!

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Postby x9200 » Thu, 04 Feb 2010 10:44 am

macaroonie wrote:Megha
Did you have in your contract that they need to notify you in writing before deducting anything from the deposit?

I would take this up with CASE, from what i read on this forum, it is not a complicated thing to do and you really sound like you have been taken for a ride. I don't think painting the place has anything to do with damage to the property (unless you of course defaced the walls - but it doesn't sound like you did).

Good luck and let us know how you go!

E-e.
http://www.case.org.sg/making_a_complaint.html
Complaints CASE does not handle:
[..]
Landlord and tenant claims

CASE is for consumer affairs so typically consumer-business relation. Here, the landlord is likely just a private owner.

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Postby macaroonie » Thu, 04 Feb 2010 11:28 am

Yes X9200 you are right! it's the small claims tribunal

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Postby megha » Thu, 04 Feb 2010 12:49 pm

Its not the painting I was charged for..atleast not directly..I was charged $1000 for the curtains!!!

Unfortunately in my case...the landlord changed in the last 6 months..and while buying he did not check the condition of the curtains..good thing is that the previous owner's agent is willing to testify that the curtains were indeed old!! Let see..

What I was trying to find out from the forum is that...Has someone ever tried claiming through the Small claims court..How fast is the decision made..and is it fair...I dont want to end up spending more money + running to the courts for the next one year!! Frankly speaking..if it was me..I would do it..just to inconvenience the landlord..but contract is in my husband's name..wonder if it is him who has to run around..he is not as angry as me!!
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Postby sundaymorningstaple » Thu, 04 Feb 2010 1:10 pm

We use the SCT all the time. It quick, it's fast and if they still don't pay, there is the option to set them up for seizure and auction in order to recoup your money. However, then the costs start rising and if there's nothing there then you may get nothing. Otherwise it's very cheap.

http://app.subcourts.gov.sg/sct/index.aspx


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