Your Tenancy Rights As An Expat Tenant in Singapore
For expats familiarising themselves with tenancy agreements and leasing arrangements in Singapore, here’s a comprehensive Rental 101 to educate you on your rights. The law in Singapore strictly favours the landlord, hence if a certain ‘right’ isn’t explicitly written in your tenancy contract, it’s non-claimable!
From the start ensure you have it all down in a well-written contract so you can avoid future disagreements. Be sure to check on these important points:
The Security Deposit & Property Hand-Back RulesThe security deposit is required as a holding fee to protect the tenant against instances where there are ‘damages’ to the property or ‘unpaid rents’. Usually calculated based on the equivalent of one month’s rent per year of lease, the amount is negotiable.
Some contracts may state ‘non-performance of tenancy agreement’ as a reason to withhold paying back your Security Deposit, i.e., forgetting to service your air conditioner quarterly. Make sure you iron out any vague terms beforehand, and ensure that your tenant includes ‘advising you in writing first before deducting any amount from your deposit’—to be fair.
Also, the landlord must pay back your deposit within seven to 14 days of handing back the property. No more claims can be made after the hand-back evaluation is completed.
Handover of Property to New TenantNo agreement is binding till you’ve signed on the dotted line, so it’s best to scrutinise over every detail and sign the contract before the day you move in. Don’t let unscrupulous landlords change any terms in the tenancy agreement between the date you sign the letter of intent (LOI) and pay the “good faith deposit” to book the property—and the day you move in. Your contract should include ‘30 days to highlight any defects in the apartment to the landlord, e.g., leaking pipes, faulty lights, etc.,’ which the landlord should fix at their cost.
Make sure you have any prior or old defects documented in writing so it isn’t forfeited from your security deposit during the hand-back condition assessment. Take snapshots of the defects and date these in an inventory list for your own safekeeping, handing a second copy over to the landlord—and to be really safe, note down model numbers and brands for appliances.
Maintenance and RepairsYou have the right to select your own maintenance service people, so don’t get stuck with a certain company just because it’s written in the contract. Also, check if there’s a limit per annum on the amount you pay for minor repairs and damages, e.g. in most cases, you are responsible for the first $150.
Payment of RentalWhile most tenants in Singapore are perfectly reasonable to deal with, there have been bad eggs where in an attempt to kick you out, they change their bank details so you default on payment unknowingly and they get to keep your security deposit. Make sure you have an agreed mode of payment written out clearly, and a clause like ‘made all reasonable attempts to pay using the clearly communicated rental payment arrangement’.
Visitors RulesYour landlord or agent may only visit your apartment with permission from you first. You don’t want any random Tom, Dick and Harry traipsing through your apartment at funny hours in the search for new buyers or tenants.
What About Other Vague Clauses?If the agreement includes any clauses on insurance, insist on reviewing the insurance documents first before signing onto the TA, or have the clause completely removed. Also if ‘immoral activities’ was included in the agreement as a reason for ‘non-performance of tenancy agreement’—do check on the exact definition. Illegal activities are acceptable, but ‘immoral’—in what sense? Don’t accept any terms you’re uncomfortable with just because your landlord dismisses it as ‘the standard contract-lah’. Make the changes you need to first, as long as it’s within reasonable grounds.
Lease RenewalThe usual lease contract duration is one-year with the option to extend by one more year. Your landlord has the right to revise the rental price upon renewal, however if you’ve been a great tenant—you may be able to talk to your landlord about maintaining the status quo or even reducing the price slightly. Don’t forget to find out if there’s still an agent cut involved, and whether you or your landlord are responsible for paying the agent’s fee. Your lease can be renewed using the same tenancy agreement, attached with an updated simple letter signed by both parties, which has to be duty stamped again.
Terminating The LeaseCheck if your agreement includes the diplomatic clause, which protects expats by letting them terminate the lease earlier incase they need to be transferred out of the country, leave Singapore due to an emergency, etc. Documentary evidence will have to be provided to prove reason for such termination. Usually, the rule of thumb is six months per year of lease (effectively, 14 months on a two-year contract)—with 2-month notice. Do check whether your diplomatic clause is carried forward (and still applies) in your lease renewal if you plan to extend your stay in the following year.
Expats who have (or wish) to terminate their lease earlier without a diplomatic clause will have to bear the costs for the whole remaining lease amount. In such a case, never simply split and run just to avoid costs, as you could be sued for breach of contract.
Did you find this article helpful and do you have any other advice to offer for expat tenants? Do share in the comment box below.