We’ve seen many cases of tenants having disputes with their landlords and vice-versa. People ask what their rights are, and if their landlords are allowed to do this and that. But before getting into detail, we’d like to get one thing out of the way :
If the right is not explicitly written into the contract, the tenant does not have it.
This is why a well-written contract can help you in the worst of events. Now most people reading this would probably be current or future tenants, so before you sign the contract it is extremely important that you know what you are getting into. Claiming you ‘did not know what it meant’ is not a valid excuse.
There are some basic rights landlords usually provide, such as :
- Exclusive possession of the room/space
- No intrusions from outsiders
- Bear costs of repair/maintenance
The contract will lay out the roles and responsibilities of each party. When it is given to you, read it carefully and ask your landlord if you do not understand any part of it. If you are unsure about a clause, and your landlord replies “oh you can ignore that”, DO NOT ignore it. This is where a lot of people get trapped.
If your landlord replies as such, underline/highlight the clause and make them sign right beside it.
This can help you if there’s a dispute. Next, we have a list of common things to look out for :
- Security deposit is only used in relation to damages to the property or unpaid rents (they tend to say for non performance of tenancy agreement here which means they can just keep you deposit even if it doesn’t relate to damages or rent, ie. such as not getting the air conditioner cleaned quarterly)
- Deleting ‘immoral’ activities from the wording as the landlord can say anything associated with the term to kick you out (illegal is fine but how do you define immoral?)
- Advising you in writing first before deducting amount from your deposit
- Paying back your deposit within 14 days
- Ensuring both parties have no more claims upon each other after the handback evaluation is completed;
- Limiting per annum the amount paid for minor repairs (you are usually responsible for the first $150 but say the fridge, air conditioner, oven and other appliances break, this can add up fast)
- Being able to choose your own maintenance people (sometimes they say in the contract it must be with a certain company) ,which gives you some flexibility
- Making sure you have something like “made all reasonable attempts to pay by the clearly communicated rental payment arrangement” – it has happened where they change the bank details and you default the payment and they keep your security deposit and kick you out if they want
- Get a diplomatic clause (only applies for 2 year contracts). If you leave early after one year you only pay 2 months extra, and they will probably keep your bond as well so make sure this is also spelled out
- Take out clauses that you cannot possibly perform. E.g if asked to comply with insurance policy, ask for the copy of the policy (else how would you know what the terms are and how to comply?)
- Landlord/agent may only visit your apartment with prior permission from you.
Some landlords might not be used to tenants requesting changes to the contract, so if they are hesitant, explain your case for them to make these reasonable changes to the agreement. There are real legal implications when you sign the contract, so make sure you are satisfied with the terms.
Do remember that the contract is not binding until it’s signed. That being said, ensure you’ve cleared all doubts and am fully confident before signing it. When moving in, remember to take pictures of the apartment/room. This is the comfort/cleanliness of the living environment you expect and are agreeable to before you move in.
The contract should state that you get 30 days to bring to attention of the landlord any defects in the apartment, e.g malfunctioning air-conditioner.. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to fix all of these at their cost.
If you have good relations with your landlord, you can cut out the agent entirely and negotiate the terms of the new lease directly between you two. This is also a good time to negotiate for a lower rate since you have been living there for some time.
As with all contracts, remember to read the new one thoroughly to ensure that there are no funny clauses added without your notice. Compare it to the old contract to see if anything has changed.
There should be a clause in the contract stating the payment you are required to make to the landlord for ending your lease early. This could be the entire remainder of the lease, or a few months worth of rent. Typically, you can avoid this payment if you can find someone to take over your lease for the remainder of the lease period.
Some contracts also allow for early termination after a fixed period (e.g 14 months on a 2 year contract).
There are many cases of problems and issues the landlord might bring up during the end of the lease to hold your deposit as ransom. This is where the pictures of the living area you took when you first moved in can be of tremendous help.
Next, as we already mentioned above, note the terms associated with the deposit (return policy, when it is returned, etc). Do not withhold the last month’s rent in an effort to get back your deposit. This is because in most tenancy contracts, the landlord has the right to evict you from the room/house if you are late in paying rent.
If you have issues with your landlord that were not addressed by this article, you can refer to the Tenancy Disputes Document published by the State Courts of Singapore. We will also be publishing an article regarding common disputes and how to resolve them soon.