Top 10 Common Landlord-Tenant disputes and how to resolve them
Updated: Mar 31
In Singapore, while most transactions between landlords and tenants are usually amicable, they can frequently become the source of dispute and distress for both parties if disagreements occur.
Disagreements are common, and the renting out of property can lead to several types of misunderstandings between the landlord and the tenant.
In this article, I would like to share the top most frequently asked questions (FAQs) and share practical and useful tips to assist you on how best to avoid these situations and navigate your way through them, regardless if you are the tenant or the landlord.
Questions from tenants
Question #1: What happens to my good faith security deposit if I do not wish to enter into the Tenancy Agreement after signing the Letter of Intent?
A Letter of Intent (“LOI”) is an agreement to enter into a tenancy agreement later on. Whether the deposit can be recovered depends on the terms of the LOI. Unless otherwise drafted, most LOIs state that the security deposit will be forfeited by the landlord if the deal falls through.
In Singapore, the common practise is that landlords generally ask for one month worth of rent for every one year lease.
Question #2: When must I allow my landlord to enter the apartment or can I choose not to?
A landlord cannot enter an apartment without the tenant’s permission or a court order.
Most tenancy agreements allow for landlords and/or their authorised representatives to enter into the premises for the reasons to conduct repairs or to show the property to prospective tenants or purchasers with prior appointments.
Question #3: I have moved in. For damages within the property and appliances breaking down, whose duty is it to bear for these repair charges?
There is usually a first month free warranty clause for the new tenant to inspect and inform of any items that are not working, and it is the duty of the landlord to undertake repairs for free. The new tenant is not liable to pay for any charges in the first month upon moving in.
Depending on the terms of the tenancy agreement, the tenant is usually responsible to pay the expenses of any minor repairs or replacements to the premises or furniture up to a certain limit.
Currently, we see the limit is usually between $150 to $300 depending on the fixtures, furnishings and furniture. The landlord will cover the remaining expense above the limit.
Repairs that cost above the specified limit will usually require the landlord’s approval. The landlord will typically reserve the right not to pay to repair the damage which arose out of the tenant’s own negligence. Some agreements will also include the landlord’s preferred contractors.
In the above situation, assuming that the landlord is expected to pay a portion of the cost of the repairs, the tenant would require the landlord’s approval for the repairs. The tenant should give the landlord written or informed notice of the fact that the item is not working and provide a quotation for the repair works.
If the landlord does not respond within a reasonable period, you have given the landlord notice and it is an emergency situation, you can engage a contractor to
perform the repairs and claim for the expenses incurred provided these expenses are reasonable.
Question #4: Can I withhold rent or use it to offset the security deposit?
Generally, you cannot withhold rent as it would mean a breach of agreement by doing so. Most tenancy agreements stipulate that tenants are to pay the rent without any deduction whatsoever, and may even incure interest charges for late payments.
Security deposit cannot be used to offset the final month of lease.
Question #5: Can I terminate my lease before the end of the term? I have a valid reason, for example losing my job or relocating overseas.
The tenancy can only be terminated as provided in the tenancy agreement. In the absence of a diplomatic clause, you would have no right to early termination. You would have to negotiate with your landlord to determine how best to proceed.
Always negotiate for a diplomatic clause for a 2 year lease.
Question #6: I have completed the term of the tenancy and have moved out of the premises. The landlord is withholding my security deposit and is citing reasons that I think are unreasonable. Now that it’s happening, what can I do to get my security deposit back?
As per the usual rental terms and conditions, tenants can recover their security deposit upon returning the property in an acceptable condition, excluding normal wear and tear, and the landlord must return the balance deposit to the tenant within 14 days after the expiry or termination of the tenancy agreement.
The security deposit serves to protect a landlord against breaches of the tenancy agreement. If the landlord refuses to return the security deposit, the landlord must justify why.
If the landlord does not state why he/she is withholding the security deposit, the landlord will be in breach of the tenancy agreement.
If the landlord informs you that he/she is using the security deposit to cover the cost of some repairs or to compensate for some breach of the tenancy agreement, the landlord has to account for the sums used in a reasonable manner. If the reasons and costs cited by the landlord are unreasonable, the landlord may be in breach of the tenancy agreement.
So it is important to clearly document the original condition of the house both in writing and with pictures or videos to minimise future potential disputes.
Question #7: How can I avoid the situation where the landlord withholds my deposit?
Security deposit protects a landlord from breaches to the tenancy agreement. Thus, the security rental deposit exists to mitigate the risks associated with renting out the property.
It is a financial safety net for landlord.
If the landlord experiences any property - related loss due to the tenant’s actions, the landlord can then claim some or all of the security rental deposit to recover from it. To reduce the risk of problems arising from the security deposit, understand the conditions of the tenancy agreement clearly, and keep records of the following
Pictures of defects of unit upon moving in and informing the landlord/landlord agent about it in writing within the first month. Both parties to amicably decide if you want the defects rectified. If not , both parties are to agree upon the "As Is" condition upon the handing over at the end of the lease term. This can also be stated in writing in the Inventory List.
Rental payments proof
Aircon servicing receipts and contract
Receipts of repair work
It would be ideal to conduct a joint inspection with the landlord, or landlord's agent to check if there are any valid issues that the landlord may have regarding the state of the premises at the time of handing over.
Question #8: Can I withhold payment of my last month of rental to off-set against my security deposit?”
Unless negotiated otherwise, most tenancy agreements will prevent you from using your deposit to off-set against the rental. The landlord would then have a claim against you for late payment of rental.
Questions from landlords
Question #9: What checks should I do before renting out my property to a prospective tenant?”
At the very least, you need to carry out a background check on your prospective tenant (and the people whom you know will be occupying the premises) before renting your house to him/her to check they have valid immigration passes/work passes. Your property agent will usually assist you on this.
If the tenant or occupiers do not have valid immigration passes/work passes and/or has overstayed the duration of the said passes, a landlord may be charged with the criminal offence of harbouring if he/she did not perform the full background checks.
Given the severe consequences, it is crucial to perform the necessary checks. It will also be useful for you to make and keep copies of the documents referred to in performing the requisite checks so that you can prove that you made the necessary checks.
Question #10: My tenant is always late in paying the rent and has even missed payments. What should I do?
One of the most common issues that can arise is the non-payment of rent. Many landlords are quite willing to give their tenants extra time to fulfil their commitments. While the decision to do this depends upon the equation that the landlord has with the tenant, the practice should be avoided as far as possible.
In any case, if the tenant does delay the payment of rent, it is advisable to put the matter in writing so that a record is created.
You should send your tenant written reminders for the late and missed payments of rent.
If your tenant continues to breach the terms relating to the payment of rent in the tenancy agreement despite your reminders, you can claim for your rental and the late payment interest (if stated in the tenancy agreement) against your tenant in court.
Lastly, you can pursue a claim in the Small Claims Tribunal.
The second type of problem involves damage to the property during the tenancy of the lease agreement. It is important for both the landlord and the tenant to verify the condition of the property at the beginning of the lease.
This will prevent disputes from arising and eliminate one of the most common reasons for landlord-tenant dispute. However, the Landlord should also be mindful of the usual wear and tear expected at a property and not expect the tenant to bear every single repair charges.
It is also the duty and due diligence of the landlord to provide and respect the living space of their tenants to call home.
The best way to avoid a dispute is to clarify all the terms and conditions at the very beginning of the contract.
This can be done by entering into a comprehensive tenancy agreement that addresses all the issues that could arise.
When you are renting out your apartment or office premises, don’t assume that the tenant understands what you want and that there is no need to put everything down in writing.
"A thoughtfully and clearly written tenancy agreement can potentially prevent disputes for both parties."
Can your property agent help in a dispute?
Being a property agent, I would help my clients where I can, to be a fair mediator and to serve their interest at my best ability by leveraging on my years of experiences handling landlord-tenant disputes and seeking advice from experienced peers as well.
Although a property agent is not responsible for mediating landlord-tenant disputes, both parties often turn to the property agent to mediate during a disagreement.
If a dispute is satisfactorily resolved through informal means at this level, it is beneficial for both the landlord and the tenant.
Another option would be to seek out mediation centres that are established under the Singapore Government’s Ministry of Law. The Community Mediation Center can mediate between landlords and tenants.
Alas, as a final resort, you can engage a lawyer to assist with legal proceedings. Do note that legal action can take a long time and be costly.
I am sure most of us would prefer to avoid disputes nor conflicts, regardless whether we are acting as landlords or tenants.
However, rest assured that landlord-tenant disputes are not unusual. What is more important is the best course of action and steps on how to resolve it.
I am happy to share my experiences with you as a realtor managing these common scenarios in the Singapore rental market.
About the author
Marie is a realtor with OrangeTee & Tie and an aspiring property content writer. She loves connecting people with their dream homes, and derives satisfaction when her clients still reminisce about their housing adventures with her years later!
Aside from her love of viewing gorgeous homes, she enjoys local fare and travelling.