What If I have a Tenancy Dispute or Complaint in Singapore?

Last updated on April 15, 2019

Landlord-tenant disputes are one of the most common forms of disputes in Singapore. However, it is unclear how parties can seek to resolve such disputes in Singapore. This guide will provide a general guideline as to the rights of landlords when faced with such disputes and what parties can do to resolve such disputes.

Commonly seen landlord-tenants disputes include:

Failure of the Tenant to Pay Rent

The tenant is usually obligated to pay rent in exchange for his use of the premises under the lease. The lease usually specifies that the rent will be payable periodically, for example, payable by the first day of every month. The landlord has the right to demand for the payment of the rent due under the lease.

Legal recourse for the landlord when his tenant fails to pay rent:

  • Sue for the breach of contract (lease)
  • Obtain an order to recover possession of the premises
  • Re-enter the premises and forfeit the lease
  • Exercise the right to distress and seize goods to sell

Damage Caused to Premises during Tenancy Period

There is usually a clause in the lease that states the tenant is not to damage the property for the duration of the lease. It is advised that potential tenants should ensure that the premises are in good condition before entering into the contract. This is because, in the event that there is any damage to the property and the tenant reports it, the landlord may claim that the premises had been damaged by the tenant during the rental period.

Legal recourse for the landlord when his tenant causes damage to the premises:

  • Sue for the breach of contract (lease)
  • Obtain an order to recover possession of the premises
  • Re-enter the premises and forfeit the lease

Refusal to Leave the Premises after Termination of Tenancy Agreement

A common landlord-tenant dispute arises when the tenant refuses to leave the premises as agreed, after the termination of the tenancy agreement. When a tenant continues to stay and occupy the premises after the tenancy agreement has been terminated, this is called a ‘holding over’.

The landlord can either charge the tenant with:

  1. Double the amount of his rent until he leaves; or
  2. Double the value of the premises which the tenant stayed in during the period of occupation.

The landlord need not give any notice to the tenant of such charges against him.

Sublet of Premises or Assignment of Lease to Third-Party

It is very common for landlords to discover that their tenants sublet the premises or assign their lease to a third party despite an express clause in the tenancy agreement that the tenant is absolutely not allowed to do so or not allowed to do so without consent. The landlord should not withhold consent on purpose or without valid reason when the tenant seeks consent under the lease to sublet the premises.

Sue for Breach of Contract

As a tenancy agreement is a contract between the landlord and tenant, the failure of the tenant to follow any of the clauses in the agreement would be a breach of the contract.

The obligations to pay rent, ensure the premises are in good condition, not to sublet without consent and to leave the premises after termination of the agreement are generally provided for in the tenancy agreement. Therefore the landlord will have the right to sue the tenant if the tenant fails to fulfil those obligations.

The burden lies on the landlord to prove that the tenants had failed to fulfil those obligations. If it is found that the tenant had failed to fulfil those obligations, the Court will award damages based on actual losses suffered by the landlord.

Obtain an Order or Judgment for the Recovery of Possession of the premises

The landlord has the right to apply to the Court to obtain an order or judgment for the recovery of the premises when the tenant has:

  1. Failed to pay rent that was due for 21 days and above;
  2. Caused damage to the property; and
  3. Sublet and assigned the premises without consent and got paid more than what should be paid for the sublet or assigned portion.

After the Court has made an order, the landlord can use the order to take back his or her possession of the premises rented out.

Failure to pay rent

In the case of a tenant failing to pay rent, the landlord must send the tenant a notice of demand in writing. The landlord must include his name and address in his notice of demand and serve it on the tenant at the premises which he had rented out. Landlords are advised to use registered mail, to prevent the tenant from claiming that he was not given any notice.

To stop the landlord from applying a court order, the tenant has to pay the landlord for rent owed after receiving notice using registered mail at the landlord’s address.

Damage caused to the premises

When a tenant has wrongfully caused damage to the property, the landlord may obtain an order from the Court to seek compensation from the tenant.

Subletting of premises

The landlord has the right to apply to the Court to obtain an order or judgment for the recovery of the premises, if the tenant sublets the premises or assigns the lease to a third party and receives rent which:

  1. Exceeds what may be recoverable for that portion; or
  2. It exceeds 110% of what needs to be paid to the landlord in total.

The order or judgment for recovery of possession is generally not enforceable against the sub-tenant. However, it will be enforceable against any sub-tenant if the court is satisfied that the tenant was prohibited by the terms of his tenancy agreement from subletting or the sub-tenant has used the premises for illegal or immoral purposes.

Re-enter the Premises and Forfeit the Lease

 The landlord generally has the right to forfeit the lease for the non-payment of rent or when damage is caused to the premises. The lease will be terminated upon the landlord’s re-entry of the premises.

If the lease did not expressly reserve the right of the landlord to forfeit the lease, the law will take that the right has been provided for in the lease if:

  • For the failure to pay rent, the rent or any part of the rent owed has been in arrears for 30 days and above; or
  • For the damage of property, if the lease is for more than 7 years and registered on land title

The tenant may apply to the court for relief against forfeiture of his lease when the landlord is proceeding with an action to enforce his right of re-entry or forfeiture. For the non-payment of rent, the tenant may only do so if he pays all the rent he owes and for the costs of the legal action taken by the landlord. If the tenant does so, the lease will be continued without any new lease being created.

Exercise the Right to Distress to Seize Goods to Sell

The landlord has a right to apply to the court for a writ of distress to claim up to 12 months’ arrears of rent owed to the landlord before the distress application. The landlord should act on the matter swiftly and not take his own time in claiming the arrears, for example, waiting until the tenant owes him rent for almost 12 months before making the application. Do note that the landlord does not have the legal right to personally seize the tenant’s belongings when the tenant fails to pay rent.

After the application is granted, a writ of distress will be granted and the Sheriff, an enforcement officer of the Court, will be able to seize any moveable property, such as furniture, found by him on the premises.

The writ of distress and notice of seizure of goods must be sent to the defaulting tenant to notify him of the seizure and the sale of his goods. He should pay the amount due within 5 days. Alternatively, he may apply to court for an order to restrain the sale of his goods. If the tenant does not reply and pay the amount due or obtain an order to restrain the sale, the landlord may then exercise his option to sell off the goods. The money from the sale of goods will be first used to pay the Sheriff and then used to pay the landlord for the rent owed to him.

Read more about applying for a writ of distress in our other article.

Other Forms of Resolving Landlord-Tenant Disputes

Mediation

Parties can attempt to mediate when face with disputes, and mediation can be attempted at a Community Mediation Centre (CMC). The CMC provides mediation services for landlords and tenants for disputes involving:

  • Disagreement on living arrangements;
  • Utterance of unacceptable words;
  • Display of unacceptable behaviour or conduct; and
  • Interest-free monetary matters based on verbal agreement involving less than S$5000

Advantages to mediation:

  • It is private and confidential. Parties’ identities and matters discussed will not be revealed to anyone outside of the mediation session.
  • It saves time as it usually lasts for a few hours and can be completed within one or two sessions.
  • It saves money as there is no charge for the mediation service. There is only an administrative fee of $5 which will be borne by the complainant.
  • It is flexible, informal and creative. Parties are encouraged to come up with their own solutions that are mutually beneficial.
  • It seeks win-win solutions by meeting the interests of both parties.
  • It preserves post-conflict relationships.

Read our other article for more information on mediation in Singapore.

 File a claim at the Small Claims Tribunals

If mediation does not work, the parties can file a claim with the Small Claims Tribunals.

Filing a claim at the Small Claims Tribunals can be done without a lawyer, and is usually more cost-efficient for claims below $10,000. The Small Claims Tribunals has the ability to hear any claim relating to disputes arising from a tenancy lease of residential premises that does not exceed two years. Most forms of landlord-tenant disputes, such as claims for security deposits and unpaid rent, are resolved here.

To file a claim at the Small Claims Tribunals, a party is required to pay a lodgment fee. The applicable lodgment fees are as follows:

Not exceeding $5,000 Exceeding $5,000 but not exceeding $10,000 Exceeding $10,000 but not exceeding $20,000
Consumer $10 $20 1% of claim amount
Non-consumer $50 $100 3% of claim amount

After a claim is lodged or filed, the Small Claims Tribunals will fix the claim for a consultation/mediation before the Registrar. The Registrar will mediate the claim, to assist parties in resolving the dispute. The Small Claims Tribunals will generally fix the consultation/mediation within 10 or within 14 days from the date of filing of the claim.

If a claim is not settled at the consultation before the Registrar, it will generally be fixed for hearing within 7 or 10 days from the date of consultation. If the claim is fixed for Hearing before the Referee, the Referee may also explore the possibility of settlement, before adjudicating the claim.

Read our other article for more information on filing a claim with the Small Claims Tribunals.

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