Unfortunately, tenancy disputes between landlord and tenant are quite common in Singapore, and in other countries too. In this article we give guidance on resolving tenancy disputes. Please get in touch if you need further information or advice.

The most common forms of tenancy dispute in Singapore are outlined below.

Property Damage

There will usually be a clause in the lease stating that no damage should be caused to the property during the tenancy. Before agreeing to rent a property, potential tenants should ensure the property is in good condition; if the tenant reports damage once they have moved in, the landlord might claim that the damage was done by the tenant.

The landlord’s remedies for property damage caused by a tenant are:

  1. Enter the property, and forfeit the lease.
  2. Sue the tenant for breach of contract.
  3. Obtain an order to reclaim possession of the property.

Unpaid rent

The landlord has a right to demand rent when due, and the tenant is obliged to pay it. If they do not, the landlord can:

  1. Enter the property, forfeiting the lease.
  2. Get an order for recovering possession of the property.
  3. Exercise the right to distress and seize goods to sell.
  4. Sue the tenant for breach of contract.

Refusal to leave when tenancy ends

If a tenant continues to stay in a property even though the agreement is ended, this is known as ‘holding over’. If this occurs, a landlord may do one of the following – and is not required to notify the tenant of these charges:

  1. Double the rent due until the tenant leaves.
  2. Double the property’s value until the tenant leaves.

Subletting premises or assigning the lease to a 3rd party

Some tenants will sublet or assign the lease to someone else, despite clauses in the tenancy which forbid it, or forbid it without prior consent of the landlord. If asked, the landlord must give a valid reason not to allow the tenant to sublet the property.

Legal action – Breach of Contract

A breach of contract occurs if the tenant fails to abide by the obligations in their tenancy agreement. These obligations cover things like not damaging the property, paying rent on time, no subletting or assigning the lease, and leaving the property when the agreement is terminated. If one or more of these are breached, the landlord has a legal right to sue the tenant.

The burden of proof is on the landlord to show that the tenant breached the agreement. If the court decides the tenant is liable for breaching their contract. Then damages will be awarded to compensate for the actual losses that the landlord suffered.

Obtain an order to recover possession of the property

The landlord can apply to the court for recovery of the property if the tenant has:

  1. Not paid rent that is 21 days overdue or more;
  2. Damaged the property;
  3. Sublet or assigned the property without the landlord’s consent, and was paid more than the correct amount for the sublet or assigned portion.

If granted, the landlord can use the order or judgement for recovery to reclaim possession of their property.

Property damage

If damage to a property is caused by a tenant, a landlord is entitled to apply for a court order seeking compensation from the tenant.

Failure to pay rent

The landlord is entitled to send a written notice of demand to a tenant who fails to pay rent on time. The notice must include the landlord’s name and address, and be served on the tenant at the property they are renting. It should be sent using registered mail so it can be proved that the tenant actually received it.

The tenant must pay the rent owed once they have received the notice, (using registered mail and sent to the landlord’s address), otherwise the landlord may apply for a court order.

Subletting premises

A court order can be sought by the landlord to recover their property, if the tenant has sublet it or assigned the lease to a third party, for rent which:

  1. Exceeds what is recoverable from that portion; or
  2. Exceeds 110% of the sum needed to pay the landlord in total.

Usually, the landlord cannot enforce the order for recovery against the sub-tenant. However, they can do so if the court believes the tenant was prohibited to sublet by the tenancy agreement, or the sub-tenant has misused the property in an illegal or unlawful way.

Right to distress and to seize goods

A landlord does not have the right to personally seize any of the tenant’s belongings simply because the tenant hasn’t paid their rent. However, a landlord is entitled to apply for a writ of distress from the court, in order to claim a maximum of 12 months’ rent. There must be no delay in claiming these arrears – for instance, the landlord must not wait until 12 months is owed before claiming.

If the court has granted the writ of distress, an enforcement officer from the court, known as a Sheriff, will be appointed to take possession of items such as furniture that are in the property.

When the writ of distress and notice of goods seizure and sale is sent to the tenant, they then have 5 days to pay the amount due. A tenant may apply to the court for a restraining order to prevent the sale of his goods. But if the tenant does not reply to the notice and still withholds payment, then the landlord is entitled to sell off the tenant’s possessions. The Sheriff will be the first to be paid from the moneys obtained by selling the goods, and then the rent owed will be paid to the landlord from it.

Re-entering the property and forfeiting the lease

If a tenant has damaged a property or fails to pay rent, the landlord has the right to re-enter the property and thereby terminate the lease.

Even if the tenancy agreement does not expressly set out the right to lease forfeiture, the law will regard the right as being implied in the lease if:

  1. The rent owed has been due for 30 days or more; or
  2. In the case of damaged property, if the lease is for more than 7 years and is registered on the title to the land.

If the landlord brings a court action to forfeit the lease, the tenant can apply for relief against forfeiture from the court. A tenant may only obtain such relief if they have paid all the rent due in full, and paid the costs of the landlord’s legal action.

Other means of settling landlord-tenant disputes

Mediation

Mediation can sometimes help to settle a tenancy dispute between parties. Mediation services are provided by the Community Mediation Centre (CMC) for landlord-tenant disputes which involve:

  1. Interest-free monetary issues, based on a verbal agreement, and not involving more than S$5,000;
  2. Displays of unacceptable conduct or behaviour;
  3. Uttering unacceptable words;
  4. Disputes over living arrangements.

Advantages of mediation:

  • Win-win situation – an amicable settlement will benefit both parties involved
  • Money saving – mediation is free, apart from a $5 administrative fee that the complainant must pay
  • Time saving – a session lasts for several hours, and it may be possible to settle an issue with just 1 or 2 sessions
  • Private and confidential – anything discussed in the session will remain private to the people in that room
  • Flexible, informal and creative – the two parties are given the chance to come up with solutions of their own, that they can both agree on.
  • Relationships are preserved once the conflict has been resolved.

Small Claims Tribunal

Where mediation fails, parties may file a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT). Although a lawyer is not always needed to do this, they can provide valuable advice on how to prepare and how to behave, to give yourself the best possible chance of success. Tenancy disputes involving leases of residential property of 2 years or less are heard at the SCT. Disputes over claims for security deposits or unpaid rent can be settled in the SCT.

A lodgment fee must be paid by a party wishing to file a claim at the SCT. The applicable lodgment fees are:

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