Are Landlords, Tenants, and Agents Liable for Sex Trade in HDB flats/Condominiums?

Last updated on May 8, 2017

This article was contributed by Ms Koh C-u Pinn, who is a Director at Arielle Law Corporation.

In recent years, there has been an increase in the number of illegal brothels inconspicuously operating out of residential apartments in the heartlands, and frequently in Housing and Development Board flats. If such a situation should arise, would a landlord, tenant and agent of such premises be liable? How can landlords, tenants and agents prevent themselves from being unwilling parties to such illegal activities happening within their premises?

How may a landlord, agent or tenant be liable?

A landlord, agent, or tenant of any premises may be liable for allowing their premises to be used as an unlicensed brothel unless he is able to prove that he has no knowledge under section 148 of the Women’s Charter.

Notably, in a case where the tenant has subletted the premises, which has been used as an illegal brothel, the law further presumes that the tenant had knowledge of the premises being used as a brothel unless he is able to prove otherwise that he had no such knowledge. The rationale for this presumption rests on the fact that the tenant is the only authorised person to access and occupy the premises after the landlord has handed over the keys to the tenant. As such, if the premises are being used for vice activities, the tenant must have known of it and/or sanctioned it, unless he is able to prove otherwise.

Under the law, a first-time offender may be fined up to S$3,000 and/or face imprisonment not exceeding 3 years. Repeat offenders may be fined up to S$10,000 and/or face imprisonment not exceeding 5 years.

Therefore, once a landlord, agent or a tenant becomes aware of illegal sex trade being conducted in the premises, he has a duty to report such vice activities to the Police.

What are some of the precautions that may be taken?

Generally, prior to renting out, a landlord and/or the agent would have requested for the identification documents, job(s) and place(s) of employment of the would-be tenant(s). By conducting such due diligence, the landlord and/or the agent would generally have discharged his/her duty of care.

As for tenants, they are advised to comply with their tenancy agreement and only permit authorized occupiers (as listed in their tenancy agreement) to reside at the premises so as to ensure that their rented premises are not being misused as an illegal brothel.

This article was contributed by Ms Koh C-u Pinn, who is a Director at Arielle Law Corporation.


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