Singapore Property Rental: A Guide for Tenants and Landlords

the responsibilities of tenants and landlords when it comes to renting in singapore

Knowledge is power is an adage that certainly applies to Singapore’s rental market. Those familiar with the rules continue to earn from their properties without running afoul with the law, while newbie tenants and uninitiated landlords face greater risks of getting evicted, losing lots of money or even landing in jail.

To ensure you don’t encounter such problems, we compiled a list of tips and essential information, along with the latest regulations governing the city-state’s rental property market.

 

Can a landlord enter your room without approval?

In Singapore, the landlord has the legal right to access any part of his property, including a room that has been rented out. But among the most common complaints of tenants here is when the owner does this without their consent, or when their room gets checked while their away.

As such, it is paramount to have a clearly-worded leasing contract that covers such situation. So even if the local rules are advantageous to the landlord, he will suffer consequences if the tenancy agreement prohibits him from unjustly intruding into the lessee’s room.

Below are some provisions would-be occupants can incorporate into their tenancy contract to prevent such situation:

i. Obligate the property owner to get a written permission if he wants to enter the tenant’s room as well as prevent him from entering the room without occupant’s knowledge.
ii. Require the landlord to inform tenant beforehand if he will enter the room, and set ample notice period of one day or more.
iii. Specify the cases wherein the property owner will need to seek occupant’s approval before entering that latter’s room. For example, landlord needs to do minor repairs or will show the room to potential tenants.
iv. Set penalties in the event that the property owner violates such provisions.For example, if the landlord enters your room without your knowledge and permission, you can scrap the rental contract immediately or after a few months’ notice. Remember to clearly state in the rental contract that your security deposit needs to be refunded if this happens.
v. Include limitations. If there are clauses prohibiting the landlord from intruding into your room, the owner will likely ask for exceptions before signing the tenancy agreement. Normal exceptions include if owner needs to go into your room due to an emergency, he needs to do crucial repairs that if delayed could negatively impact the property, or the police armed with a valid search wants to check tenant’s room.

 

Landlord or Master Tenant? Check who you’re dealing with

Before committing to lease a room, always make sure that the person you are transacting with is the actual owner of the property or a person authorised by him and not a master tenant. So don’t sign a rental contract without confirming this.

This is because master tenants are not permitted to sublet their room unless explicitly permitted by the owner. Even if you’re dealing with a master tenant who has been authorised to do so, ensure that your name is included in the official rental agreement and have the landlord acknowledge this. You need to do this, otherwise you might suffer the same fate of the unlucky subtenants mentioned below.

In 2009, a four-room maisonette measuring 3,000 sq ft at Elizabeth Towers within the Orchard Road area was unlawfully partitioned by a master tenant, who sublet the property to 11 other occupants.

When the landowner discovered this, she served eviction notices to the subtenants, who could do nothing but vacate the premises as they were not included in the tenancy agreement. It’s also unknown whether the subtenants were able to get back their security deposit.

In addition, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) instructed the landlord to tear down the partitions. Even though the owner did not install it, she is required under the rules to ensure its removal. Moreover, those who partition private housing can be imprisoned for up to a year and/or pay a maximum fine of $200,000.

To prevent this from happening to you, always confirm who you’re transacting with. To check, have the person log into their HDB account if you’re renting public housing, or have them access Singapore Land Authority’s MyProperty portal to verify the properties owned by that person.

Remember, not doing your homework when renting a room or property could leave you out on the streets and rushing to find new accommodations, with your security deposit likely gone as well.

Related article: HDB Subletting: 11 Mistakes Every Landlord Should Avoid

 

Tenants’ worst nightmare

Another serious issue faced by some tenants is overcrowding to the point that they’re nearly packed like sardines. A case in point is when the authorities raided a flat in Toa Payoh Lorong 2 in April 2018. Although it only has three bedrooms, it was discovered that the property was leased to 15 tenants.

Important: Private residential properties and HDB units come with stringent regulations regarding the maximum number of occupants. These homes also have fixed partitioning rules, so beware if the premises shown to you come with room dividers.

 

Maximum number of occupants in HDB flats and private condos

According to URA rules, the maximum number of permissible tenants allowed for private housing is six unrelated individuals.

Additionally, caregivers and domestic helpers are treated as belonging to one family. Hence, if a five-member family has hired a caregiver and domestic worker, they will be exempt from the occupancy cap for private housing. On the other hand, if a family of four wants to rent part of the private condo, they can only accommodate two additional persons.

If you’re a master tenant and the landlord has allowed you to sublet a room, the property’s total occupants should not exceed six. Also, please take note that you are prohibited from creating additional bedrooms by installing partitions or dividers.

For HDB properties, the number of non-related tenants in three-room or larger HDB flats must also not surpass six persons, while the limit for three-roomers and smaller units is six occupants.

Property/flat typeMaximum number of subtenants
Private property6
One-room and two-room HDB flats4
three-room HDB flats6
Four-room or larger HDB flats9

For rental applications granted by HDB before the effective date, the new limit will be imposed upon renewal of the leasing arrangement or if there are changes in the tenants.

While those who lease bedrooms are required to comply with the lower limit, a family with over six members can still rent an entire HDB flat. This rule also covers the living quarters of HDB commercial properties being leased out.

Aside from that, all owners of HDB flats and HDB commercial premises along with their would-be tenants are now required to obtain the Housing Boards approval prior to starting the tenancy.

Previously, owners of HDB commercial space were not obligated to do so, while tenants of HDB units and HDB commercial spaces as well as HDB homeowners were required to register with the Housing Board within seven days since the beginning of the tenancy.

Applications to lease out HDB units, bedrooms or living quarters of HDB commercial premises can be filed through the agency’s e-services. Although the application result will be released immediately, each application will respectively entail an administrative fee of $10, $20 and $100 per bedroom, entire HDB flat or living quarters of HDB commercial spaces.

Unit typeAdmin fee
Bedroom$10
Whole flat$20
Living quarters$100

 

Rental duration: HDB vs private condo

On 30 June 2017, the URA reduced the minimum rental period for private homes from six consecutive months previously to three straight months. This means offering lodging for a shorter period is strictly prohibited unless the URA explicitly approved it.

In comparison, the Housing Board only permits a tenancy of at least six months. The maximum stay duration is two years for non-Malaysian non-citizen residents (i.e. Singapore Permanent Residents and foreigners), and three years for Singaporeans and Malaysians. If the landlord wants to renew the tenancy, he needs to apply for permission again from HDB.

Below is a comparison between private and HDB properties:

Property typeStay duration
MinimumMaximum
Private Home3 monthsindefinite
HDB Flat6 monthsTwo to three years

Important: While private properties can be rented out to guests and tourists as long as it’s not shorter than three months, HDB units cannot be leased out to tourists. The latter can only be rented out to expatriates with passes like Long-Term Social Visit Passes and Student Passes.

 

Punishment for Violators

Property TypePenalty
Private CondoMaximum of $200k for each charge / 12 months jail time
HDBFine / Loss of HDB Flat

In 2019, there were about 800 suspected cases of illegal rentals, up from 750 in 2018. 

Based on URA rules, those caught renting their homes for short-term rentals will be fined up to $5,000, while repeat offenders and those who rent out short-term accommodation for multiple properties will be prosecuted in Court, with the imposition of heavier fines. This can range between $13,000 and $70,000, according to a news report by Channel News Asia (CNA)

In comparison, HDB flat owners found guilty of unauthorised rentals and surpassing the cap on the number occupants will face fines, or even lose their homes in case of severe violations.

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