With soaring rental prices, many expats are being forced to search for cheaper properties. Luckily, property lawyer SURESHAN KULASINGAM has years of experience with Singapore tenancy agreements and landlord-tenant disputes. He has some good tips on protecting yourself before, during and after your lease on topics like diplomatic clauses and security deposits.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’ve been in practice in Singapore for over 26 years and I’m also a barrister of the Middle Temple (UK). In 2012, I established Sureshan LLC, a boutique law firm that serves individuals to corporate entities in both contentious and non-contentious matters as well as on an advisory capacity. I’m honoured to be joined by associate director Mr Nevinjit Singh, who is a very safe pair of hands.
What types of legal matters do you deal with?
We cover a broad range of areas from commercial, corporate and penal infringement advisory to complex civil litigation, arbitration, matrimonial matters, probate and life-planning. We’ve also represented parties in matters involving foreign and cross-border elements and disputes.
What legal tips do you have for expats on Singapore tenancy agreements?
#1 Use a well-drafted lease
Ensure the Singapore tenancy agreement is well drafted to protect the interests of both parties, and to limit disagreements and costs down the line. At a minimum, it should address the description of the premises to be let, the arrangements for repair, maintenance and other services. Restrictions on making alterations or improvements, lease renewal and diplomatic clauses are also key points to cover.
#2 Diplomatic clauses
For expats, diplomatic clauses are important because the length of your stay in Singapore is often not definitive. These clauses apply to leases over twelve months. If your employment ceases or is transferred to a different country, the diplomatic clause provides a framework for an early exit scenario. This right is subject to conditions like a minimum occupation period and official evidence of transfer.
#3 Be realistic
Generally, given the current property market, it’s unlikely a landlord would agree to a wholesale or significant revamp of the clauses to their detriment. Aim for the most important clauses in your individual circumstances and be willing to compromise.
#4 Take photographs
When you take the keys to a new place, it’s crucial to have documentary and photographic evidence of the state of the property. Conduct a preliminary inspection to ensure all appliances and fixtures are in working order.
Naturally, some defects may not be apparent straight away. When you are aware of a defect, notify the landlord in writing as soon as possible. As a precaution, take photographs on a periodic basis. If disputes arise, this evidence can be valuable.
#5 Ask the agent for the landlord’s direct contact information
A simple yet often overlooked point is to make sure the address of the landlord, (rather than the agent) is stated in the tenancy contract. I’ve experienced several situations where the landlord hasn’t provided their registered address, which poses problems to enforce contractual rights.
What’s the best way to deal with a landlord withholding a security deposit?
One option to recover a security deposit is to make a claim against the landlord in the Small Claims Tribunal without engaging a property lawyer. For your claim to be eligible, the sum can’t exceed $20,000, and the lease term can’t be longer than two years. If the rental deposit exceeds this sum, you may limit your claim to $20,000. And if the landlord consents, it can be increased to $30,000.
Note that a lease renewal may make the claim ineligible in the Small Claims Tribunal if it extends the lease past two years. It’s better to sign a fresh Singapore tenancy agreement and not a renewal when extending for this reason. The only risk is that you’re not guaranteed a new lease on the same terms.
There are several limitations to the first option. For instance, parties can’t be represented by property lawyers at the Small Claims Tribunal. If the matter is complex and protracted, approaching a solicitor is advisable.
This article first appeared in the April 2023 edition of Expat Living. You can purchase the latest issue or subscribe, so you never miss a copy!
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