Tenancy Agreement and Your Rights as a Tenant

Tenancy Agreement and Your Rights as a Tenant

Some advice for people signing leases (tenancy agreements) in Singapore, culled from the collective wisdom and experience of forumers. Comments, corrections and suggestions for additions welcome!


In general, the law in Singapore is very much biased in favor of the landlord. Basically, in a court of law, if the right is not explicitly written into the contract, the tenant does not have it. Now, most landlords are perfectly reasonable and you'll have no problems whatsoever -- but a well-written contract will help prepare you for the worst case.

Virtually all leases in Singapore use the same boilerplate agreement, and it's worth changing at the least the following in it (list courtesy of Nath21):

* 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 or see next point);
* Deleting 'immoral' activities from the wording as they can say anything to get you out with that in (illegal is fine but how do you define immoral?);
* Advising you in writing first before deducting amount from you 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 I paid for minor repairs (you are usually responsible for the first $150 but say the fridge, air conditoner, oven all 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) if they dodge you and they often do you are stuck;
* 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 pay 2 months extra only, know they will probably keep your bond as well so make sure this is spelled out as well;
* Take out clauses that you cannot possibly perform. I had one in about insurance and I said to comply I needed to see copy of the insurance otherwise how do I know what I have to comply with and the term was immediately withdrawn;
* Landlord/agent may only visit your apartment with prior permission from you. Otherwise, if they're selling the apt or looking for a new tenant, random strangers will be ramping through at all hours.

When you request these changes, landlords and agents may attempt to dismiss them by saying that they're a part of the standard agreement and/or meaningless and/or nobody ever objected before. Stand your ground; all the changes are reasonable and they will give way.

And a final note: some leases split the rental cost into two parts, one for the apartment and the other for furnishings. Previously, this arrangement reduced the landlord's taxes, although the loophole has since been closed. In either case, it has no impact on the tenant.


Some landlords attempt to change the terms in the tenancy agreement between the date you sign the letter of intent and the day you move in, figuring that you're their hostage after you've already moved in. The best prevention is to sign the agreement before you move in, but if you find yourself trapped, do not give into blackmail -- the agreement is not binding on you either until it's signed. (For face-saving purposes, though, you may want to give in on a minor point or two.)

The contract should state you get 30 days to bring to attention of the landlord any defects in the apartment, including blown lights etc. It's the landlord's responsibility to fix all of these at their cost. Document all problems found in writing and add it to the handback condition assessment.

Take detailed pictures of the apartment. Burn two copies on CD/DVD, note the date, and give one copy to the landlord. If you want to be really safe, note model numbers and brands for applicances.

Lease Renewal

Most leases in Singapore are written as one-year leases with the option to extend by one more year. The landlord can and will change the rental price when renewal day comes up. All things considered, you can expect to be able to negotiate a small reduction if you've been good tenants, but in Singapore's rollercoaster property market the price can still swing wildly.

Your agent may wish to get a cut of the renewed lease as well, even though they did absolutely zero extra work for this. Make clear, in writing, whether you, the landlord, or anybody will pay the agent's fee. If landlord and tenant are happy with each other and the lease allows this, it's not uncommon to cut out the agent entirely, deal directly and save the money.

If there is a previous tenancy agreement, a lease can be renewed under the same conditions with a simple letter saying so, signed by both landlord and tenant. However, even this letter has to be duty stamped.

Early Termination

Diplomatic clauses allow early lease termination after a fixed period (usually 14 months on a two-year contract). If you have no diplomatic clause and wish to/forced to terminate the lease earlier, you are theoretically required to pay out the entire remainder of the lease.

In practice, most landlords will be fine if you can find a tenant to take over at the same price, but a few greedy ones will not accept this. In this situation, many expats (especially those leaving the country) opt to simply cut and run, forfeiting their security deposit. Needless to say, this is a breach of contract and the landlord can -- in theory -- sue you to recover the rest.

Handing back the apartment

Cases of landlords refusing to repay deposits or making massive deductions on spurious grounds (retiling an entire floor because of a single chipped corner etc) are regrettably common. Prevention is the best cure here: document the state of the apartment before you move in and ensure the deposit returning rules are laid out in the contract.

You may be advised by friends to withhold the last month's rent in lieu of the deposit. However, this is explicitly forbidden by most lease agreements and the landlord can legally kick you out of the apartment after a single week's delay in the rental payment, so don't resort to this without considering the consequences.

In the case of an unresolvable dispute, the best avenue for legal resolution is the Small Claims Tribunal. If no longer in Singapore, you can appoint a friend to act on your behalf, and quite often the mere threat of bringing the issue to court will magically improve the landlord's behavior.

Source: Singapore Expats Forum

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29 May 2009
Singapore Expats Forum