When Geraldine* was told by her landlord that the rent for their five-room flat was going to be increased by 60 per cent, she was shocked to say the least.
Despite knowing how property prices have sky-rocketed in recent months, Geraldine did not expect rental prices to shoot up in tandem as well.
"We were totally blindsided. We thought it would be reasonable for the landlord to increase [the rent] up to 30 per cent in today's market. But we were just shocked it was 60 per cent."
Geraldine and her husband had been renting the HDB flat in the north of Singapore for the past three years and had renewed their lease just a year ago at the same rate.
With the end of the one-year lease term coming up this year, Geraldine told AsiaOne that she had casually asked the landlord about his plans for the unit before the two-month notice period on the lease.
The reply that she got was, "Oh yeah, I want a 60 per cent increase in rent."
No reason was provided for the increase either, which would push the figure close to the mid four-figures. "That's like a condo [rental] price."
Geraldine added that as a result of the spike in rent, they have to give up their current unit and explore other options.
"We can't continue, I mean when you have a 60 per cent increase, it's such a big jump that you wouldn't even want to consider.
"We tried to negotiate but [the landlord] was very firm, and he even went on to say that if you want a shorter term it will be more expensive."
She doesn't believe that it's a tactic to drive them out of the home, maintaining that they had been "very good tenants" thus far with no complaints coming from the landlord.
Not wanting to speculate too much on the landlord's reasons for the huge jump, Geraldine simply said that with price increases all around, "everybody's being stretched, let's just put it this way".
"Times are tough and maybe the landlord has circumstances of his own. We don't know."
However, that doesn't ease the pressure that Geraldine now feels to find a home for herself and her husband.
"We really thought that we'd be homeless in two months," said Geraldine, sharing that "with the property market going crazy, we are very priced out."
Exploring rental options close to their current place also yielded asking prices just slightly lower than what their landlord was asking.
"The rental market has just gone bonkers," said an exasperated Geraldine who believes others might be unaware of the situation.
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However, she added that even at the rental price which the landlord has advertised for, there are still "people lining up to see the apartment".
Tenants such as Geraldine may have got the short end of the stick in the current property cycle, and the bad news is that there may be little relief in sight as residential rents look poised to "climb unabated", according to an article published by EdgeProp on Oct 7.
Lee Sze Teck, the senior director of research at Huttons Asia, told EdgeProp that HDB rents have increased by about 20 per cent in the first nine months of this year.
He attributed the spike to a short supply of ready properties due to the delays to some build-to-order HDB and condominium projects. He conjectured that a higher demand due to the return of expatriates to Singapore could also have added to rental demand.
Lee added that with more HDB and condo developments expected to be completed by the end of next year, the rental crunch could be eased slightly, with homeowners who are currently renting moving out to their new properties.
Nicholas Mak, the head of research and consultancy at ERA Realty Network, added in the report that there's also been "gradual growth" in the number of HDB flats that have reached the end of the five-year minimum occupation period (MOP), with peak numbers attained this year.
However, Mak shared that the temporary relief might be short-lived as he expects the number of available rental flats to taper off in 2023 and 2024.
The news definitely leaves tenants like Geraldine and her husband seemingly at the mercy of their landlords.
With hindsight being 20/20, Geraldine certainly regrets not getting their own place sooner.
Explaining why they made the decision to rent in the first place, she shared: "You always think you have options when you rent."
According to Lucas Chiew, Leasing Specialist at JNA Real Estate (Nark), landlords they've come across have increased their asking rent between 40 per cent and 60 per cent.
"People can expect to pay around $3,000 for a three-room HDB flat, $3,500 for four-room and $4,000 for a five-room unit. To put this in perspective, the asking prices right now are about double than what it was at this time last year," said Chiew.
And even at spikes of 60 per cent, Chiew said that there could be 10 viewers for a single flat showing on a weekend, with some even willing to offer and confirm the flat without viewing.
"Even at current prices, it's not uncommon to receive multiple offers, or even have potential tenants entering a bidding war," shared Chiew.
He concurred that tenants just like Geraldine who are exiting a long-term contract during this period "will be feeling the pinch".
"Landlords would want to seize the opportunity to nearly double their rental income, especially if the current tenant is still paying rates from 2019 or earlier," said Chiew, adding that he foresees co-living options as a viable choice for tenants who are "more mobile".
But for Geraldine and her husband, they intend to request for a short extension on their lease while they look for alternatives, with an eye to buy their next apartment instead of renting.
"It was something that we were not really ready for but you just have to bite the bullet. Because the rental market just doesn't make sense."
*not her real name