Making Lemon Law Claims for Defective Items in Singapore
Have you bought an item that stopped working soon after the purchase? If so, you may think that being resigned to the situation is your only option. However, consider using Singapore’s lemon law to get recourse from the seller.
Lemon law is a consumer protection law that provides some remedies to buyers of defective products. “Lemons” have been used to refer to defective cars since at least the 1960s, though the term may have been in use even earlier. Laws passed to protect buyers of these defective cars were called “lemon” laws, and the term has stuck since then.
In Singapore, our lemon law takes the form of the Consumer Protection (Fair Trading) Act. This article aims to help you understand:
What are the Transactions Covered By the Lemon Law?
The lemon law covers all transactions involving general physical consumer goods from stationery to cars. This includes discounted products stated to be “non-exchangeable” or “non-refundable”, so sellers cannot escape their legal obligations just because they have marked their products as such.
To qualify for protection under the lemon law, your product must have been defective and you must have bought it as a consumer after 1 September 2012.
Defective products are products that did not conform to the agreement at the time of delivery. For example, this could refer to products that:
- Did not match the product description;
- Are not of satisfactory quality; or
- Are not fit for any purpose communicated to the seller before purchasing.
The lemon law also applies to pre-loved products, but whether such products are considered to be of “satisfactory quality” will depend on the age of the product at the time of delivery. For example, “satisfactory quality” for a 4-year-old car may refer to a level of performance expected of a 4-year-old car of the same model and mileage, rather than a brand new one.
Dealing as a consumer
The lemon law also states that you must be dealing as a consumer. This means that you are not purchasing the product as part of your business or work, and the seller is selling the product as part of his business or work. As a result, the lemon law does not cover:
- Business-to-business (B2B) transactions. For example, clothes purchased from your supplier for sale in your fashion retail shop will not be covered as the purchase is a business-to-business transaction.
- Consumer-to-consumer (C2C) transactions. For example, items purchased from online marketplaces such as Carousell or Facebook Marketplace may not be covered if the seller is not running a business on these platforms. Such transactions are then considered consumer-to-consumer.
What are Transactions Not Covered By the Lemon Law?
Even if you have purchased a defective product as a consumer, the lemon law may not apply if:
- You damaged the product through misuse, unauthorised repair or inappropriate storage or care.
- The defect arose from natural wear and tear.
- You had been informed of the defect before purchase, or the defect was obvious enough to be spotted before purchasing.
- The product is not defective, but you changed your mind about wanting it after purchasing.
- You found that the product did not suit a special purpose you had had in mind for it, but had not communicated this special purpose to the seller beforehand.
Further, the lemon law does not apply to transactions involving:
- Houses (regardless of whether they are being transacted on an “as is where is” basis).
- Rental goods that are not under a hire-purchase agreement.
What are Your Rights Under the Lemon Law?
If you have purchased a defective product, you have the right to require the seller to:
- Repair or replace the product; or
- Request for a full or partial refund if the defective product cannot be repaired or replaced.
Requiring the seller to repair or replace the product
The seller is required to replace or repair your product within a reasonable time and without any cost to you if you request it. This can be done through a warranty if the product is covered by one.
Request to the seller for a partial or full refund
If repair or replacement is impossible or unreasonable, the seller can opt to provide a full or partial refund instead. A repair or replacement would be considered unreasonable if the costs of doing so are disproportionately higher than the other recourse available to you.
You can keep the defective product if you requested a partial refund. However, if you had requested a full refund, you must return the defective product because this involves cancelling the sales contract.
For example, if you had purchased a used car with a tampered odometer, and the car later breaks down, you may be able to request a partial refund for the defective car. However, if the seller does not comply with the lemon law, you may need to rely on alternative measures (discussed further below).
What is the Time Limit For Invoking the Lemon Law?
You can use the lemon law within 6 months of the date of delivery of your defective product. Within this period, the lemon law presumes that any defects you find had been present when you first received the product. It would then be up to the seller to prove that the product had not been defective at the time of delivery to you, such that the lemon law does not apply.
As a result, the lemon law effectively overwrites warranties that are less than 6 months long. This means that if the product comes with a 1-month warranty, the seller can rely on this warranty to compensate you if the product breaks down during the warranty period. However, even after the 1-month warranty expires, you will still be able to require the seller to compensate you under the lemon law if you had owned the product for 6 months or less before it broke down.
In the case of perishables that have an expected shelf-life of fewer than 6 months, such as food, the presumption that a defect was present when you first received the product applies only up to its expected shelf-life, and not the entire 6 months. Normal wear and tear beyond the expected shelf-life would not be considered a defect.
Also, even if you have owned the product for more than 6 months before it broke down, you may still make a lemon law claim as long as you are able to prove that the defect existed on the date you received the product.
What Can You Do If the Seller Refuses to Comply With the Lemon Law?
First, you should try negotiating with the seller. Negotiation often yields far more preferable and quicker results than making a claim.
However, if the negotiations fail, you can approach the Consumer Association of Singapore (CASE) for help. CASE is an organisation that protects consumer interests and helps consumers file complaints against businesses based in Singapore. They can help prepare a letter to the seller on your behalf, or help negotiate directly with the seller.
If filing a complaint with CASE does not work, you may also try filing a claim in the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT). The SCT hears claims not exceeding $20,000 (or $30,000 if both parties agree to bring their claim to the SCT).
What are Your Options If the Lemon Law Does Not Apply to Your Situation?
If the lemon law is not applicable in your situation, you may still use some of the alternative recourse mentioned above. For example, if you had bought the product as a consumer, you can ask CASE for help.
You may also consider suing the seller for compensation. This can be done at the SCT for claims of less than $20,000 (or $30,000 if both parties agree to bring the claim to the SCT), or in the State Courts or High Court for larger claim amounts.
Alternatively, you can also consider lodging a complaint with Enterprise Singapore if you suspect that the defect in a product meant for personal use causes it to be unsafe. Enterprise Singapore is the agency tasked with ensuring the safety of general consumer products. If the product is unsafe, Enterprise Singapore can instruct the seller to stop selling the product, or face a fine of up to $2,000, jail term of up to 12 months or both.
You can find out more about these alternative methods of recourse in our other article on what you can do if you have been sold a defective product in Singapore.
While Singapore’s lemon law offers additional protection for consumers, you should also take steps to strengthen your chances for a successful lemon law claim. This may involve collecting and saving evidence, such as photos or videos, of any defect you find or keeping receipts of your purchases for at least 6 months to prove the date of delivery.
You should also consider the costs and benefits of seeking recourse through the lemon law, CASE or a civil suit. As a civil suit may take a long time to be settled and cost a lot of money, do consult a lawyer to help you weigh the pros and cons of the options you have when seeking compensation for a defective product in Singapore.
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