Applying for a Writ of Distress When a Singapore Tenant Owes You Rent
What is a Writ of Distress and What is it Used For?
A writ of distress is an order issued by a court, on the application of a landlord.
A writ of distress allows a sheriff (an enforcement officer of the court) to enter a property to seize the tenant’s possessions, and sell these to cover the cost of the tenant’s unpaid rent.
A landlord can use a writ of distress to claim unpaid rent of up to 12 months from the date of the application for a writ of distress.
If the tenant has already abandoned the premises by the time the writ is granted, the writ empowers the landlord to effectively take back possession of his premises if he is owed at least 2 months’ rent. This is even if the lease period has not expired yet.
What Can and Cannot be Seized under a Writ of Distress?
The sheriff can seize any items in the premises except:
- Whatever is in the tenant’s hands at the time of seizure;
- Any tools or implements, assuming that there are already other items in the premises that can be seized to fully cover the amount set out in the writ of distress;
- Clothes and bedding;
- Anything relating to the tenant’s work;
- Anything belonging to hotel guests if the premises is a hotel; and
- Anything already in the custody of the law.
Procedure to Apply for a Writ of Distress
The procedure for applying for a writ of distress is to file an ex parte originating summons with a supporting affidavit in the form prescribed by the Rules of Court. You should ideally engage a lawyer to do this for you.
What Happens When a Writ of Distress is Executed?
When a writ is executed, the sheriff goes down to the premises, seizes items to sell and provides the tenant with a list of everything seized as well as a notice of the seizure.
The tenant would then be given 5 days to either:
- Pay all the rent, legal costs and sheriff’s costs; or
- Apply to court to stop the sale of the items.
If the tenant does neither of these things, the items will be auctioned. The proceeds from the auctions will be used in this order:
- First, to cover the sheriff’s fees and expenses
- Then, to cover the rent and costs that the tenant owes the landlord
- Any remainder is returned to the tenant
What if the tenant removes any items prior to the seizure?
If the tenant tries to remove any items from the premises before the sheriff arrives, or as he arrives, the sheriff is empowered to, within 30 days of such removal, follow the movement of those items and remove them from wherever the tenant has moved them.
What if a subtenant’s items were seized?
If a subtenant’s items have been inadvertently seized, they can apply to the court to have the items returned to them.
In that case, the subtenant must pay the arrears of rent, and any future rent, directly to the landlord instead of to the main tenant before the court can order the items to be released to them.
The application procedure for a writ of distress can be relatively quick and easy if the person doing it knows what they’re doing.
But, the reality is that this is a process that dates back to 1935 and although it has been updated numerous times over the years, it is a rather complicated and technical process that is difficult to navigate without a lawyer.
Therefore, if you have a tenant who has not been paying rent, it is best to speak to a lawyer if you are thinking of applying for a writ of distress.
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