What Can Landlord Do When A Tenancy Dispute Arises and Rights Of Eviction In COVID-19 Situation in Singapore
Tenancy disputes between landlord and tenants are fairly commonplace in Singapore, as exemplified by a recent case where tenants allegedly owed their landlord multiple months’ worth of rent but refused to move out, resulting in the former’s attempts to evict them turning nasty and unlawful.
When problems arise between a landlord and a tenant, what potential solutions or remedies can be adopted?
Generally, there is no comprehensive law governing landlord-tenant relations. Just as with most commercial agreements, the courts give broad freedom for the contracting parties to decide their terms when forming a contract. In this instance, that would be the tenancy agreement. As such, both landlords and tenants must scrutinise the terms of a tenancy agreement carefully and make sure to understand and be satisfied that the stated terms are sufficiently protecting their rights before signing it. Any issues resulting from a failure to adhere to the tenancy agreement can then be considered a breach of contract, for which there can be recourse through due process of the law and a right to redress.
Common tenancy disputes include a tenant’s failure to pay rent, causing damage to the property during the tenancy period, and refusing to vacate the property after the termination, or end, of the tenancy.
Eviction can only be legally taken as a course of action if the tenant has breached the tenancy agreement. It is often the most direct option; by removing the tenants from the premises, it guarantees that the tenants cannot continue to breach the tenancy contract.
To evict a tenant in Singapore, one can take the following steps:
1. Send a written termination of tenancy notice to the tenant
2. Obtain a court order to enforce a tenancy notice
3. Apply for a writ of possession
4. Evict the tenant
Send a written termination of tenancy notice to the tenant
A landlord must give notice to the tenant that the tenancy has been terminated and cite the specific breach of the tenancy agreement that has led to this eviction.
Should the breach be able to be remedied, the landlord must provide an opportunity for the tenant to provide said remedy in order to continue the tenancy. For instance, if the breach is for non-payment of rent, the tenant can be allowed to make payment within a set period of time in order to continue the tenancy.
The written notice should also give a notice period (usually stipulated in the tenancy agreement) within which the tenant must vacate the property.
A tenant may also apply to the court for relief against the forfeiture of his lease. As forfeiture is a drastic remedy,Courts usually will give the tenant a reasonable time of an additional 4 weeks for the tenant to pay rent. If the tenant continues to stay at the property after the end of the tenancy agreement it termed as a “ holding over.” The landlord then can without notifying the tenant charge him for the double the amount of rent until the tenant leaves. The kinds of breaches which reasonably gives rise to a need to evict include:
- Failure to pay rent or consistently paying rent late;
- Causing damage to property; and
- Conducting illegal activity which creates legal liability for a landlord, e.g. subletting to illegal immigrants.
If a tenant has committed one of the above breaches then the landlord has every right to evict them.
Obtain a court order to enforce a tenancy notice
Should the tenant refuse to comply with the written notice, a landlord must now take more drastic action. In order to obtain a court order to legally enforce the termination of the tenancy, the landlord must first obtain a judgement in court that is ruled in his favour.
For a breach that results in rent or damages owed of up to S$20,000, the landlord may wish to bring this issue up to the Small Claims Tribunal, which is a relatively fast and low-cost option especially since one does not need to be represented by a lawyer to bring proceedings to the Tribunal.
Otherwise, one would have to sue in the other civil courts – the District or Magistrate’s Courts – through the civil litigation process.
Once a landlord has received a favourable judgement, he may obtain a court order which the tenant cannot legally refuse to comply with.
Apply for a writ of possession
If the court order involves the payment of damages or monies owed to the landlord by the tenant, and the latter continues to refuse to comply, applying for a writ of possession is the next step to take.
A writ of possession will enable a Sheriff (an enforcement officer of the court) to take possession of items belonging to the tenant to recover the debt owed to the landlord. Prior to this, the court will give the tenant another 4 weeks to pay the money owed. Should the tenant fail to do so, the writ of possession will take effect.
In response, a tenant may apply to resist eviction from the court. The court will consider the merits of such an application and decide whether or not to grant a writ of possession.
If the court grants an application for a writ of possession, it will issue a Notice of Eviction to the tenant, informing him of the date and time to vacate the property.
Evict the Tenant
On the date and time of eviction, the landlord (or his agent) as well as a Sheriff will enter the property, by force if necessary. Eviction papers will be served on the tenant, and an inventory of all the items in the property will be made, before these items are seized to be sold to satisfy the tenant’s debt. The tenant will then be evicted from the premises.
Tenants who remain in the premises after the end of their tenancy can be charged double the rent without prior notice until they have vacated the property.
Tenants who have been evicted are not allowed to re-enter the premises without the permission of the landlord.
Alternatives to Eviction
There are certain less drastic actions to take, each with potential benefits that might sway a landlord to pursue it instead of eviction.
Parties are encouraged to pursue mediation in order to find an amiable solution or compromise that can resolve a tenancy dispute. Mediation is fast, often only taking a few hours. It is also very low-cost, and sets up an environment which facilitates informal dialogue.
It must be said that the more the alleged disputes move from minor infractions such as rude behaviour or small monetary disagreements to more serious problems such as a persistent non-payment of rent, or extensive damages caused to the property, the more mediation tends to lose its efficacy.
However, mediation can be very effective if both parties are willing to adopt the correct mindset in attempting to resolve a dispute.
Writ of distress
If a landlord is owed unpaid rent but does not wish to evict the tenant, perhaps because conditions were not favourable towards finding a replacement tenant, he may apply for a writ of distress to claim a maximum of 12 months’ worth of rent. Once a writ of distress is granted by the court, the tenant has 5 days to repay the monies owed.
Should the tenant fail to comply, then, as with a writ of possession, a Sheriff is empowered to seize any moveable property such as furniture, in the property. These possessions may then be sold to cover the cost of the unpaid rent.
What distinguishes a writ of distress as an alternative option is that it allows the tenancy to continue and for the tenant to continue living in the property.
Rights of Eviction In Covid 19 Situation in Singapore
The COVID-19 pandemic has severely impacted the global economy. Singapore's economy has not been spared either and businesses have had a downturn resulting from the pandemic, and the public health measures imposed by the government. This global pandemic is a global crisis and new legislation has been enacted to cope with crumbling businesses which affects the Landlord Tenant scenario too.
The COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act (the Act) was passed on 7 April 2020, with a view to giving relief to parties of scheduled contracts, which include a lease or license of non-residential immovable property, such as a tenant of a shopping mall. Under the Act, a party who is unable to comply with his or her obligations on or after 1 February 2020 under a lease or a licence, and the inability is caused by COVID-19, has to give a “Notification for Relief” to the counterparty and its guarantors Then there will be temporary relief from performing those obligations for a prescribed period. The prescribed period is 6 months which can be extended or shortened by the Minister for Law.
This relief is not applicable to contracts entered into or renewed (other than automatically) on or after 25 March 2020. This means , if a contract was renewed automatically after 25 March 2020, it will be considered to be a scheduled contract under the Act.
Tenants must first serve a notification of relief on the landlord in accordance with ss 5(1) and 9(1) of the Act by writing in to the landlord to request for a maximum of 6 month’s deferral of payment of rent
If a tenant gives a “Notification for Relief” to its landlord under the Act, then the landlord may be prevented from taking action against the tenant arising from the tenant’s failure to perform its obligations under the lease until after the earliest of the following:
The expiry of the prescribed period; or
The tenant withdraws the “Notification for Relief”.
The actions which the landlord is precluded from taking against the tenant include:
Starting or continuing court or arbitration proceedings against the tenant and its guarantor;
Taking distress against property of the tenant;’’
The enforcement of any security over immovable property; and
Imposing a right of re-entry or forfeiture under the lease.
Generally there is no comprehensive law governing landlord-tenant relations It is mainly dependent on the tenancy agreement. As a note of precaution, scrutinize the terms of a tenancy agreement and be sure your rights are protected before entering into one. Failure to adhere to the tenancy agreement is considered a breach of contract for which there will be recourse through due process of the law and a right to redress. If rent has not been paid for 21 days or more the Landlords can exercise his rights against the tenant for unpaid rent.