In a recent post on KiasuParents, there was a comment regarding a possible rental loophole when it comes to renting an HDB; one that could be used to the detriment of a tenant. This has caused a bit of worry on the part of tenants, as well discussions about whether it’s really fair. Here’s the rundown on what seems to have happened:
A sudden eviction
You can follow the linked thread or see the first post above, but here’s the general summary:
A landlord with a tenanted flat approached HDB, and informed them of their intent to move back in. This terminated the approval to rent out the flat.
The tenant, who was still in the flat at the time, was evicted. This appears to have been a forced eviction as well, requiring the presence of the police and a locksmith.
The tenants’ security deposit was also retained by the landlord. This security deposit was a significant sum, amounting to three months of rent for a three-year lease. This in itself was strange, as the tenant was not a Malaysian Citizen, which would normally set the maximum lease at two instead of three years.
Note that the landlord was purportedly a licensed property agent, under CEA.
This could have explained why, a short time later, the same flat supposedly appeared up for rent on a popular property portal, with a 40 per cent rate increase.
(Most major property portals only allow CEA-licensed agents to post listings).
The evicted tenant has supposedly been turned away or given no real recourse, and is just out of shelter and out of pocket.
Discussions of HDB’s role, or non-role
It’s alleged that HDB was contacted. However, it was claimed HDB’s response was that they’re not responsible for any premature termination of a TA; and that the landlord in question had not broken any terms and conditions (as proper approval was obtained before renting out the whole unit).
It was also claimed HDB hadn’t addressed the issue of the three-year lease, despite the tenant being non-Malaysian.
If true, this would definitely be against HDB’s regulations for renting out your flat.
Should CEA do something about this?
The problem gets a bit more complicated when the landlord in question is also a property agent. Some suggested that the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) should be involved, on the basis of the landlord’s purported unprofessional behaviour.
It’s also claimed that the landlord turned up at the tenant’s workplace before, and caused a scene; this supposedly caused the tenant to receive a censure from Human Resources.
The landlord also allegedly warned that, if the tenants destroyed her career, she would do the same to theirs.
If the landlord were just a private citizen this would be a different matter; but in this case, the landlord is a representative of the profession, as well as being the property owner.
This will definitely be a conflict of interest if not declared upfront, as generally, the tenants will be at the losing end here when trusting the landlord that TA is “standard”.
It also questions the motives of having a three-year TA, when most agents would know that this would not hold in the matter of disputes at the Small Claims Tribunal, as only those with a Tenancy Agreement not exceeding two years would be able to be filed.
Do also remember that being a licensed agent allows the landlord to quickly re-list the property on major sites, viewed by hundreds of thousands of prospective tenants. As a licensed realtor, the landlord would also have the upper hand in the drafting of the TA, and other relevant legal documents.
This calls into question whether CEA should intervene.
Finally, the usual tussle over the security deposit
Lastly, is the matter of the claims to take back the tenant’s 3-month deposit because of apparent damages to the home.
It’s one of the biggest issues when renting a home. If proper expectations are not set out at the beginning, and documentation of the home’s condition is not thoroughly captured and agreed upon before moving in, it always results in a finger-pointing exercise at the end of the tenancy.
Landlords will typically point to physical issues and lay claims for repair, while tenants may argue that these are reasonable as the result of wear and tear.
Tenants should always push for a detailed inventory of all the items that come with the property. This is to protect you from further disputes later regarding any missing items. You should also do a proper inspection before and be as comprehensive as possible to take photos and videos of the space, with both parties acknowledging and agreeing on the condition of the place before you move in.
That said, there could be more to it than meets the eye
This is still a developing story, and as of now, we’ve yet to hear from the other side of things (we will keep this updated when we hear of anything).
While there seem to be many landlord horror stories in Singapore, the truth is that there are just as many tenant nightmare stories as well.
From frequent late rental payments to a sudden disappearance a few months before the tenancy is up, with the home left in a deplorable condition such that the rental deposit is hardly enough to cover – it can be just as difficult for landlords in Singapore too.
For now, treat this more as a warning for about-to-be tenants in Singapore. Do your due diligence before signing any tenancy agreement in a hurry. It might be tempting to overlook it because of how hot, and hard it is to secure a tenancy now – but fast forward two years later and you might face issues that will be a pain to solve.
To wrap up, the biggest concern is the precedent this might set
If it’s possible to kick out a tenant by terminating the approval to rent your flat – even with a valid TA – then renting an HDB flat may be a cause of concern for some.
What is to stop future landlords from evicting tenants and re-listing the property, just because rents are rising?
Tenants are not always in a position where they can hire a lawyer to defend themselves. Depending on the amounts involved (e.g., lost security deposits), the tenant may end up paying more in legal fees than they can recover.
There are also few ways for a prospective tenant to know if this is about to happen; so if all of this is true, it puts them in an extremely unfair situation.
This also has a negative impact on the profession of property agents as a whole. If the allegations toward this landlord/agent turn out to be true, it can leave the impression that agents have the means – and will – to turn their industry knowledge against laypersons.
Don’t discount the risk of a bad landlord, when signing a longer lease
A longer lease is quite desirable in 2022, with rental rates surging across the board – and we expect this will go up even more, with the Malaysian border being re-opened. But if this is your very first time renting from a particular landlord, don’t be too quick to rush into a full two or three-year lease.
While we understand the worries about rates rising later, the potential cost may not make up for an abusive or difficult landlord. Follow us on Stacked for expert insights into the Singapore property market, as well as the latest happenings.
This article was first published in Stackedhomes.