Landlord and Tenant Disputes

Landlord and Tenant Disputes

Tenancy disputes between landlord and tenants are unfortunately all too common in Singapore. This article serves as a general guideline on how to resolve a tenancy dispute, but for further information and advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

The common types of tenancy disputes are as follows:

Tenant fails to pay rent

Tenant is obliged to pay rent for their usage of the property. The landlord has the right to demand the rent due. If the tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord may:

  1. Sue the tenant for breach of contract.
  2. Obtain an order to recover possession of the property.
  3. Enter the property and forfeit the lease.
  4. Exercise the right to distress and seize goods to sell.

Damage caused to property during the tenancy period

Normally, there is a clause in the lease which states that the tenant shall not damage the property during the duration of the lease. A potential tenant must ensure the property is in good condition before deciding to rent a property. If the tenant reports any damages to the property after they have moved in, the landlord may claim that the property was damaged by the tenant during the rental period.

When a tenant causes damages to the property, the landlord may:

  1. Sue the tenant for breach of contract.
  2. Obtain an order to recover possession of the property.
  3. Enter the property and forfeit the lease.

Refusal to leave the property after termination of the tenancy agreement

It may happen that a tenant refuses to leave the property after the tenancy agreement is terminated. When a tenant continues to stay at the property after the tenancy agreement has ended, it is called a ‘holding over’.

In this situation, the landlord can charge the tenant with:

  1.  Double the amount of rent until the tenant leaves.
  2. Double the value of the property until the tenant leaves.

The landlord is not required to notify the tenant of such charges against him.

Sublet of premises or assignment of the lease to a third party

There are tenants who sublet or assign the lease to a third party even when there is a clause in the tenancy agreement which states that the tenant is forbidden to do so or is forbidden to do so without the landlord’s consent. The landlord shall provide a valid reason in refusing to give consent to the tenant to sublet the property.

Legal action – Breach of Contract

Failure of the tenant to fulfil the obligations (clauses) stated in the tenancy agreement would lead to a breach of contract. The obligations are such as to pay rent, not to damage the property, not to sublet the property or assign the lease to a third party without consent and to leave the property after termination of the tenancy agreement. The landlord has a legal right to sue the tenant if the tenant breaches one or more of the above-mentioned obligations.

The landlord has the burden to prove that the tenant failed to follow the clauses. If the court found that the tenant is liable to the breach of contract, the court will award damages according to the actual losses suffered by the landlord.

Obtain an order or judgment for the recovery of possession of the property

The landlord is entitled to apply to the court for an order or judgment for the recovery of the property when the tenant has:

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

After the landlord has received an order or judgment for recovery of the property, the landlord can use it to recover his possession of the property.

Failure to pay rent

If a tenant fails to pay rent, the landlord shall send the tenant a notice of demand in writing. The landlord must include his name and address in the notice and serve it on the tenant at the property rented out. The landlord should use registered mail to prevent the tenant from claiming that he did not receive the notice.

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

Damaged caused to the property

When a tenant has wrongfully caused damage to the property, the landlord may apply for an order from the court to seek compensation from the tenant.

Subletting of premises

The landlord can apply to the court for an order or judgment to recover the property if the tenant sublets the property 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.

Generally, the order or judgment for recovery is not enforceable against the sub-tenant. It is enforceable against the sub-tenant if the court is satisfied that the tenant was prohibited by clauses of the tenancy agreement to sublet or the sub-tenant has misused the property for unlawful or immoral purpose.

Re-enter the property and forfeit the lease

The landlord has a right to forfeit the lease for failure to pay the rent by the tenant or when the tenant has caused damage to the property. The lease is terminated when the landlord re-enters the property.

If the tenancy agreement did not expressly state the right to forfeit the lease, the law will regard the right is stated in the lease if:

  1. For the failure to pay rent, the rent owed has been due for 30 days or more; or
  2. For the damage of property, if the lease is exceeding 7 years and registered on land title.

The tenant may apply to the court for relief against forfeiture when the landlord is commencing a legal action to forfeit the lease. For failure to pay rent, the tenant may obtain a relief only after he pays all the rent owed and for the costs of the legal action initiated by the landlord.

Right to distress to seize goods to sell

The landlord can apply to the court for a writ of distress to claim a maximum of 12 months of rent. The landlord must act quickly and not delay in claiming the arrears, for instance, to make a claim only when the tenant owes for almost 12 months of rental payment. The landlord has no right to personally seize the tenant’s belongings due to the reason of the tenant failing to pay rent.

After the court has granted a writ of distress, the Sheriff, an enforcement officer of the court is empowered to seize any moveable property such as furniture, in the property.

The writ of distress and notice of seizure of goods shall be sent to the tenant to notify him of the seizure and the sale of his belongings. The tenant must pay the amount due within 5 days. The tenant may apply to the court for a restraining order to prevent his belongings to be sold. If the tenant did not reply and pay the amount due or obtain a restraining order, the landlord has the right to sell off the tenant’s belongings. The money from the sale of tenant’s belongings will be first used to pay the Sheriff and then to pay the landlord for the rent.

Other ways of settling landlord-tenant disputes

Mediation

Disputed parties can attend mediation to settle the tenancy dispute. The Community Mediation Centre (CMC) provides mediation services for landlord-tenant disputes involving:

  1. Disagreement on living arrangements;
  2. The utterance of unacceptable words;
  3. Display of unacceptable behaviour or conduct; and
  4. Interest-free monetary matters based on a verbal agreement involving less than S$5000.

There are several advantages to mediation:

  1. Private and confidential – whatever discuss during the mediation session will be kept within the four walls.
  2. Time saving – a mediation session lasts for a few hours and it can be concluded within 1 or 2 sessions.
  3. Money saving – it is free of charge. There is only an administrative fee of $5 which will be borne by the complainant.
  4. Flexible, informal and creative – disputed parties can come up with their own solutions that are agreeable by both parties.
  5. Win-win situation – disputed parties can reach an amicable settlement that benefits both parties.
  6. It preserves post-conflict relationships.

Small Claims Tribunals

If the mediation is unsuccessful, the parties can file a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal (SCT). It can be done without a lawyer, however, a lawyer can help advise you on the correct preparation and behaviour to improve your chances of a successful claim. The SCT hears tenancy disputes which involved a lease of residential property for 2 years or less. Disputed parties can settle the tenancy disputes, for instance, claims for security deposits and unpaid rent in SCT.

For filing a claim at the SCT, a party must 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 the claim amount
Non-consumer $50 $100 3% of the claim amount

After a party has lodged a claim, the SCT will fix the claim for a consultation or mediation before the Registrar. The Registrar will facilitate a mediation session and assist the disputed parties to settle the tenancy dispute.  The consultation or mediation session will be held within 10 or 14 days from the date of filing of the claim.

If the consultation or mediation fails to settle the claim, the claim will be fixed for hearing within 7 or 10 days from the date of consultation or mediation. If the claim is fixed for hearing before the Referee, the Referee may explore the possibility of settlement before hearing the claim.

About the author

Jeremy Cheong
Jeremy Cheong

Partner

Jeremy has particular expertise in civil and commercial matters, for both transactional and dispute resolution matters. He regularly handles litigation, international arbitration, insolvency, and restructuring matters.

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