Renting woes: What to do in a tenant agreement dispute in Singapore
Disagreements between landlords and tenants are a common phenomenon in Singapore. At times, it is possible to resolve the dispute amicably by simply having a frank discussion. Small differences of opinion and misunderstandings can easily be cleared up in this manner.
But what if the issue is serious and becomes more complicated with time? In such a situation, the only way out may be to refer the matter to a third party for settlement. However, it is possible to ensure that you do not reach this stage at all.
The best way to avoid a dispute is to clarify all the terms and conditions at the very beginning of the contract. This can be done by entering into a comprehensive tenancy agreement that addresses all the issues that could arise.
A well-drafted tenancy agreement can pre-empt disputes
When you are renting out your apartment or office premises, don’t assume that the tenant understands what you want and that there is no need to put everything down in writing.
In fact, the tenancy agreement is a crucial document that should be made with great care. It plays a large role in protecting the landlord’s interest and provides the tenant with a clear set of rules that must be followed.
Here are some of the standard clauses that you should not forget to include:
- The amount of rent and the date by which it must be paid every month.
- Deposit amount and the conditions under which it will be returned to the tenant.
- Tenant to bear maintenance and minor repair charges.
- Tenant to be responsible for the payment of utility bills.
A carefully written tenancy agreement can prevent a lot of trouble for both parties.
Types of disputes that can arise
Unfortunately, the renting out of property can lead to several types of misunderstandings between the landlord and the tenant. But at times, tenants can deliberately ignore the conditions that they have agreed to abide by at the inception of the lease.
One of the most common issues that can arise is the non-payment of rent. Many landlords are quite willing to give their tenants extra time to fulfil their commitments. While the decision to do this depends upon the equation that the landlord has with the tenant, the practice should be avoided as far as possible. In any case, if the tenant does delay the payment of rent, it is advisable to put the matter in writing so that a record is created. This record can be referred to if the matter goes to court.
The second type of problem involves damage to the property during the tenancy of the lease agreement. It is important for both the landlord and the tenant to verify the condition of the property at the beginning of the lease. This will prevent disputes from arising and eliminate one of the most common reasons for landlord-tenant discord.
There can also be an occasion when a tenant could refuse to vacate the premises when the lease expires. This can be a serious issue, especially as it can prevent the landlord from entering into a lease agreement with a new tenant.
Can your property agent help in a dispute?
Although a property agent is not responsible for mediating landlord-tenant disputes, both parties often turn to this agency when their relationship turns sour. Why is this?
If you think about it, the property agent can be ideally positioned to broker peace. Firstly, the agent is familiar with the premises and also knows both parties. In addition to this, the agent knows about the laws governing property matters and the practices followed in the industry.
If a dispute is satisfactorily resolved through informal means at this level, it is beneficial for both the landlord and the tenant.
The next step – Community Mediation Centre
These mediation centres have been established under the Singapore government’s Ministry of Law. The Community Mediation Centre can mediate between landlords, tenants, and co-tenants, but its role is limited to certain types of disputes:
- Disagreement on living arrangements.
- Issues regarding unacceptable behaviour and conduct.
- Monetary matters involving less than S$5,000.
Small Claims Tribunals
For larger amounts, the Small Claims Tribunals, which are part of the State Courts of Singapore, can play a role. These Tribunals have the authority to handle landlord-tenant disputes that involve a sum up to S$10,000.
What if the dispute involves a sum larger than S$10,000? The Tribunals can hear claims for an amount of up to S$20,000 if both the landlord and tenant provide their written consent.
Remember that you cannot refer a dispute to the Small Claims Tribunal if the cause of action (the issue over which the disagreement has arisen) is over a year old.
Referring the matter to the Courts
The last resort is to refer the dispute to Singapore’s legal system. Before you do this, every attempt should be made to settle the issue by other means. However, there are times when there is no option but to apply to the Courts for appropriate relief.
It is useful to bear in mind that legal proceedings can be both slow and expensive. They can also take up a lot of your time. But if the tenant is not paying rent for months on end or is causing damage to your property, it is appropriate to approach the Courts.
Search for a lawyer who understands property matters and who has experience in this field.
The amount that you spend on legal fees is money well-spent as it could help you recover your rightful dues and could even re-establish your rights over your property.
Disclaimer: The author is not a licensed law practitioner in Singapore. This article is based on the author's personal research and understanding into the topic, and does not constitute legal advice.