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Thursday, 21 July 2011

Some tenants in arrears hold landlords to ransom

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SINGAPORE: With Singaporeans increasingly turning to renting out their apartments for extra income, more disputes are flaring up between landlords and tenants, according to lawyers and property agents. And it is not only the landlords who are giving their tenants headaches.

Anecdotally, complaints of landlords being held ransom by tenants in arrears and refusing to move out are increasing.

Property agent G Rajan told Today that three out of 10 rental disputes in the last two years he handled, were from landlords. He said: "It's a lot of legwork and time spent going after the tenant."

A recent case involve a couple who were unable to drive out their tenant.

Mr Poh Boon Kay, 62, and his wife got SP Services to terminate the utilities account on March 7, hoping that this would prompt their tenant to move out.

However, the tenant lodged an objection to the termination. He got his lawyer to send a letter to SP Services citing that he was still residing at the premises and that termination of the tenancy was being disputed. The utilities services were restored.

In a letter to Mr Poh - which was seen by Today - SP Services said that, under the Electricity Act, it had an "obligation" to "supply utilities to occupants who require the supplies".

It added: "We have an obligation to reinstate the account opened by the tenant given that there is no sufficiently strong reason why we should not reinstate the account."

Mr Poh said his tenant "identified himself as a property agent and said he had clients and he would sign the tenancy agreement on their behalf". Mr Poh added: "Later, we found out that he had sublet the unit to some foreign women."

When contacted, the tenant declined comment.

In another case, nautical engineer M Gopalan said his tenant thrashed his Azalea Park unit and left him with S$4,400 worth of repairs.

The tenant also defaulted on payment three months into the tenancy and refused to vacate. Fortunately for Mr Gopalan, his property agent managed to contact the tenant's brother and eventually persuaded him to leave.

For most landlords, their only recourse is the legal route - taking out a court order to repossess the property and recover the arrears. But this entails cost and time, said lawyers.

Lawyer Abdul Rahman noted that a tenancy agreement is usually geared "towards the protection" of the landlord, and that the landlord has the "full option of the law" to go after the errant tenant.

Mr Rahman added: "(Landlords) need to cut their losses but the longer it takes to evict the tenant, the more the landlord is at the losing end ... There have been cases which went on for as long as four months in the courts."

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