21 people in a 4-room flat? Landlord shocked to find tenants subletting to others

Brendan Yee shared how his family found 21 tenants living in the four-room flat they rented out to six tenants.
PHOTO: TikTok/Uchify.sg, Brendan Yee

Having a steady stream of passive rental income sounds like a great plan, until you get a call from the town council about possible illegal subletting. 

One man recently shared about how his family rented out his childhood home to six tenants, but eventually found out that there were a total of 21 tenants in the unit. 

Brendan Yee posted about his family's experience in what he described as "rental hell" in a TikTok video uploaded on Monday (Oct 3) by Uchify, an online publication that specialises in property-related content. 

https://www.tiktok.com/@uchify.sg/video/7150224278892399873?is_from_webapp=v1&item_id=7150224278892399873&lang=en

In the video, Yee explained that his family had signed a two-year lease with the tenants after doing "thorough background checks on them". He did not indicate when they signed the lease or where their flat is located at. 

Yee further elaborated in an article on Uchify's site that the tenants were foreign workers, who had been recommended by a property agent who had worked with their family for eight years.

"She'd always given us good recommendations, and our relationship had been smooth all these years," wrote Yee. 

Trust in their agent aside, Yee admitted that the pandemic also made it difficult for them to find tenants who were willing to match their asking rental fee and adhere to their "home rules", hence causing them to "jump at the offer". 

After the tenants had paid a deposit of $2,100, Yee's family handed over the keys to their four-room flat. 

Calls from town council 

Trouble began to brew three months later, when Yee said they received a call from the town council saying that the unit was suspected of housing more people than regulations permitted. 

There's an occupancy cap of six persons for a four-room HDB flat that is rented out, according to the Housing Development Board (HDB)'s website. 

Alarmed by the news, Yee posted that he and his family decided to go to their flat to check but they had to give the tenants a two-day notice period before visiting, as stipulated in the lease. 

"When we went down, we didn't see anything out of the ordinary. Even the neighbours said they didn't notice anything strange," Yee recalled in the video, suspecting that their tenants may have cleared out the other occupiers. 

Unfortunately, the matter didn't end there.

The town council called Yee's family less than a fortnight later with even more alarming news, he said. 

"This time, they raided the unit with the Ministry of Manpower agents. They found 21 people living inside the house instead of just six." 

It turns out, the tenants had some tricks up their sleeves to avoid suspicion from neighbours, such as keeping all their shoes within the unit, and hanging their laundry indoors. 

However, what Yee found "impressive" was how the tenants stuck little foam pieces on the flat's door and gate to soundproof entry into the house.

Even the handles of the gate and the door were given the same treatment. 

Yee showing how the tenants used foam pieces to soundproof the flat's door and gate. PHOTO: Screengrab/TikTok/Uchify.sg

"We weren’t sure if we were impressed or horrified by their stealthy ways," Yee wrote. 

As a result of their tenants' actions, Yee said his family was banned from renting their unit out for three months.

Depending on the severity and circumstances of unauthorised subletting, HDB may issue a written warning, or impose a financial penalty of up to $50,000 or even acquire the flat compulsorily from owners. 

AsiaOne has reached out to Yee for further comment.

A spokesperson from HDB told AsiaOne that the incident cited by Yee took place in July 2018.

The spokesperson said that they found the flat to be occupied by 11 tenants, and that the two main tenants had further rented out the flat without the consent of the flat owners.

A warning was issued to the flat owners for breaching the conditions of renting out their flat. No rental ban was imposed.

HDB regulations for subletting

According to HDB's website, homeowners are responsible for ensuring that tenants are authorised to stay in the flat, and that the number of tenants does not exceed the maximum number allowed. 

For example, current regulations state that only a maximum of six persons are allowed for three-room, four-room and five-room flats. For one-room and two-room flats, a maximum of four occupants are allowed. 

Homeowners are also to ensure that the flat is only used for residential purposes, and that tenants do not sublet the flat to others.

HDB also conducts regular checks to take enforcement action against unauthorised rentals. 

Just last month, the Ministry of National Development stated in a written reply to a Parliament question that HDB acted against a total of 730 cases of unauthorised renting of flats between 2010 and 2021, 70 of which were compulsorily acquired. 

Members of the public are also urged to report any suspected cases of unauthorised rental or misuse of flats to HDB's hotline.

Back in 2019, a four-room flat at Pandan Gardens made headlines when it was discovered to house a total of 24 tenants — four times the maximum permitted by HDB. 

The flat's three bedrooms housed at least six tenants staying in each room, and the living room was further partitioned into two rooms and rented out to two couples, Shin Min Daily News reported then. 

One of the tenants told the Chinese daily then that the landlord had even set strict rules to circumvent detection by the authorities, such as not allowing any of them to answer the door, and hanging their clothes out to dry. 

ALSO READ: Subletting HDB flats? These 5 assumptions could land you in trouble

claudiatan@asiaone.com