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Rental horror stories: Safeguard yourself against crazy landlords

May 18, 2016

Horror buffs will know that most movies Hollywood produces are complete works of fiction. Aside from the usual fare that follows a formulaic plot, there are occasionally those which raise the scare factor up a notch by claiming to be based on terrifying real-life events. Indeed, the “based on a true story” disclaimer is marketing gold for movie studios because it conditions the mind to think, “can that happen to me”?

In most cases, rental horror stories arise from unfavourable circumstances tenants have to deal with from their landlords

In most cases, rental horror stories arise from unfavourable circumstances tenants have to deal with from their landlords

Rental horror stories are definitely real

In reality though, the prospect of living with restless spirits only come in second to nightmare landlords on the terror scale. And the scariest fact is that such occurrences do happen on a regular basis – just go to online forum pages and you’ll read all kinds of encounters of the nasty kind. Here, we bring you some tales of woe from renters (personal details have been changed to protect their identities), so that you know what to do in difficult landlord situations.

  1. The curious case of mistaken identity

Marie F, exchange student

“Finding a place to rent in Singapore was difficult as I had to consider several criteria such as the distance to school, proximity to public transport and of course, how I was going to afford a decent accommodation based on my student budget. To my luck, I managed to find a room within a condo in the East of Singapore at a good price. The only downside was that I had to share the unit with my landlord, but I didn’t mind it at all because he was very friendly and helpful throughout.

The truth came to light two months later. The real landlord made a surprise visit to the house, and said that I should move out immediately because I have been staying in his property illegally. Turns out, my “landlord” was actually also a tenant as well and had rented out the spare room in order to make quick money from gullible people such as myself.”

Tips on how to avoid this: It is not uncommon to hear of dishonest individuals cashing in on the renters’ desperation to find a place to live. Prospective tenants can do a little research of their own in order to ascertain the authenticity of the landlord’s possession of the unit. One way to do this is to ask questions such as how long the previous tenants stayed in the property, the reasons they left and whether it’s possible to speak to them.

For those who are still suspicious about their would-be landlords, a simple verification can be done by checking the IRAS property tax website (at $2.50) or through SLA INLIS (at a slightly pricier cost of $5.25).

  1. The case of first-degree extortion

Ellen T, expat family of four

“My family and I were living in a District 9 condo. We signed the lease because we thought we were receiving a very good deal for the location at $5,000 rent and the unit was recently renovated with brand-new appliances. All was well until the lease expired, and we wanted to move to another property closer to the school our children were studying in.

In the last remaining months of our tenancy, our landlord claimed that we had to foot the bill for a list of frivolous damages we were unaware of. These included scratches to the gas hob ($1,000), a moldy toilet ceiling ($1,000), a missing screw from the headboard of the bed in the master bedroom ($100) and the replacement of the electronic lock on the main door ($2,800). We were startled by these allegations as we were sure we did not cause them nor were they highlighted during the course of our tenancy. We did ask for quotations and receipts for fixing/replacing these items, but the landlord got defensive and refused to show any proof. In the end, we had to forfeit our security deposit in order to pay for the repairs, which I believe was what the landlord was after in the first place.”

Tips on how to avoid this: Tenants can seek recourse against the landlord by going to the small claims tribunal. In a court of law, the burden of proof lies on the landlord. As such, landlords can only legally withhold money from a security deposit for actual damage to the property on the condition it is properly documented. Do bear in mind that all claims must be filed within one year from the date on which the cause of action was accrued, otherwise it will be considered void.

For new tenants, although it may seem obsessive-compulsive, it is important to keep track of the condition of the unit before, during and after the lease. Photographs and checklists are a good way to document these.

  1. The case of the faulty facilities

James W, recently married with no children

“Given that we just got married, we did not have the luxury of renting a place which cost more than $2,500 per month. We had to find a temporary place to live until our BTO flat was completed the following year and living with our in-laws was definitely something we were not comfortable with. We eventually settled on a modest three-bedroom HDB unit in Bedok. Our first impression was that the unit was favourable as it was close to supermarkets, the mrt station and the bus interchange.

However, it proved to be a bad choice right from the start. A month and a half into our lease, we discovered that the water heater was no longer functioning. The cold showers were something we did eventually get used to, but it was the leaky pipes and kitchen sink that drove us crazy. Pools of water could be found around the kitchen, which often caused us to slip a few times and our furniture to grow mold.  We contacted our landlord numerous times regarding these defects, but he would fail to rectify them despite agreeing to do so. It got to a point where he would stop responding our calls and texts entirely.“

Tips on how to avoid this: While it is the responsibility of landlords to rent out a hospitable property for their tenants, not everything in the household is under their obligation. That said, if your personal property is damaged due to negligence on the part of your landlord (eg, water damage due to a leaky pipe), then there is a case for reimbursement.

In addition, a landlord may only be required to make repairs arising from normal wear-and-tear (eg. a burst pipe). In some cases, landlords can claim that they are under no legal obligation to foot the cost of “unnecessary, non-severe repairs” such as a faulty water heater. Examine your lease agreement to see whether these terms are explicitly mentioned under the minor repair clause where both parties agree on the liability of the tenant for repair costs.

Some leases do specifically state a landlord will make only essential repairs, while others include non-essential repairs that you bring to his attention. There are even those which indicate a co-shared cost agreement – for example, the tenant will bear up to $X or XX percent of the repairs, whereas the landlord will bear the excess if it exceeds $X / fork out the remainder XX percent of the total cost. It is also worthwhile to consider getting a 30-day guarantee at the beginning of the lease so as to ensure that any items found defective during this period will be under the landlord’s cost.

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1 Comment

  • Reply Gordie October 3, 2016 at 8:02 pm

    Singapore landlords expect a high rental for a very low return of quality for the tenants. For instance, a rental here of a condo or a newish HDB that is furnished, mainly has the cheapest furniture they can fill it with, or their family’s old bits and pieces, plastic tables, cheap cupboards etc. Many will also have a ‘light cooking’ or ‘no cooking’ rule. For the prices they charge and you are meant to eat unhealthy instant noodles. I have turned up to look at a property to find that once they see it is a Westerner, the price mysteriously goes up. For a developed country, many of the rules are very questionable. In the end, it’s the landlord’s choice but really, time to offer something for the expensive rental prices.

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