Understanding Sources of Landlord-Tenant Disputes Arising from Pitfalls in Rental Agreements in Singapore

July 1, 2024

In Singapore's dynamic property scene, securing a rental is not a walk in the park. Disputes can arise from seemingly straightforward agreements as landlords and tenants navigate this crowded space, and it can often happen due to overlooked details or miscommunications. These conflicts are quite challenging and offer valuable lessons on the importance of clarity and preparedness in managing rental relationships. Therefore, understanding every tenancy agreement clause is not just helpful — it is a necessity.

Navigating the intricacies of rental agreements in Singapore involves a deep understanding of both statutory requirements and the everyday realities of living in such a densely populated space. Understanding the specific challenges and legalities that come with each can save tenants and landlords from headaches down the road, regardless of whether it is an apartment in a bustling district or a quieter enclave. We aim to shed some light on the common causes of rental disputes and equip all parties with the knowledge needed to create positive rental relationships. Let’s begin.  

Key Clauses and Their Implications in Rental Agreements in Singapore

This image has been taken from Vecteezy.

We need to examine some of the most important aspects of rental agreements, which could lead to disputes if not properly managed. Here are some —

Duration and Renewal

In Singapore, the standard practice is to set lease terms between one to two years, with options for renewal. Misunderstandings often arise when the conditions for renewal, such as notice periods and potential rent adjustments, aren't clearly spelt out. This leads to disputes when tenants assume automatic renewal or when landlords fail to provide adequate notice of non-renewal or changes in terms. Clarity in the lease agreement regarding the renewal process, notice requirements, and any criteria for rent revision is essential to avoid such conflicts.

Security Deposits

The security deposit is typically equivalent to one to three months' rent, depending on the lease duration — it serves as a safety net for landlords against potential damages or unpaid rent. Disputes emerge mainly when there is ambiguity about what constitutes fair wear and tear versus actual damage or when tenants are not informed in detail about the reasons for deductions. Singapore law stipulates that landlords must return the security deposits within a stipulated time frame post-tenancy, minus any deductions for damages that are beyond normal wear and tear. Tenants can legally challenge unfair deductions through the Small Claims Tribunal if they involve an amount up to S$20,000.

Maintenance and Repairs

The responsibility for maintenance and repairs can lead to significant disputes if they are not explicitly addressed in the tenancy agreement. In Singapore, landlords are generally responsible for major repairs and maintenance, while tenants handle minor repairs and daily upkeep. Confusion occurs when these responsibilities are not clearly defined — this can lead to tenant dissatisfaction or landlord grievances. Specifying each party's obligations, possibly with examples in the agreement, can prevent many of these disputes.


Subletting in Singapore is a frequent area of contention in rental agreements. In Singapore, tenants must obtain explicit permission from landlords before subletting the property or any part of it. This includes platforms like Airbnb. Restrictions on subletting should be clearly stated in the tenancy agreement to prevent illegal subletting and potential legal actions from the landlord. Understanding and complying with the HDB regulations is crucial for tenants in public housing, as subletting without compliance can lead to severe penalties, including the revocation of the flat lease.

Termination Clauses

Termination clauses are critical in defining how either party can legally end the lease prematurely. These clauses must outline the notice period required and any penalties for early termination. In Singapore, if a diplomatic clause is included, it allows expatriate tenants to terminate the lease early without significant penalties, typically if they are no longer employed. Disputes often arise when tenants are unaware of the penalties associated with breaking the lease early or when landlords enforce the clause unjustly.

Rent Adjustment Clauses

In some cases, rental agreements contain clauses that allow for rent adjustments during the lease period. These adjustments are usually linked to market rent trends or specific indexes. Disputes can occur if these clauses are ambiguous or if the criteria for adjustment are not transparent. Ensuring that any conditions for rent adjustment are clear and agreed upon at the outset can prevent such misunderstandings.

Clause on Pets

In Singapore, whether pets are allowed can be a significant point of contention. Agreements should specify if pets are permitted, and any restrictions related to type or size. Disputes arise when tenants assume pets are allowed without explicit permission — this can lead to potential eviction or forced removal of the pet.  To learn more about the regulation of your cat ownership, read more on the Cat Licensing Scheme in Singapore, which will be rolling out from 1 September 2024.

Use of Premises

Properties in Singapore are often zoned specifically for residential, commercial, or industrial use. Using a residential property for commercial activities without proper approvals can lead to legal issues, including fines and eviction. You also need to understand the difference between housing rental and office rental agreements in Singapore.  


Agreements should explicitly outline acceptable uses. If a tenant is considering home-based business activities, this should be discussed and written into the contract to ensure compliance with local laws such as the Home Office Scheme. Here are a few examples of permitted and non-permitted businesses for the Home Office Scheme.

Alterations and Improvements

Landlords typically prefer tenants to leave the property in its original condition. Unauthorised alterations can affect the landlord's ability to rent the property in the future or could breach building regulations. The clause should require tenants to obtain written permission before making any changes. It might also require that any alterations be reversed at the end of the tenancy at the tenant's expense. Understanding the difference between home renovations and construction work is key to managing improvements at rented spaces in Singapore.

Right of Entry

Singapore law respects tenant privacy, but landlords are also required to maintain and inspect their properties regularly to ensure compliance with building standards. The clause should balance these needs by specifying that landlords can enter the property for valid reasons, like emergency repairs or inspections, with reasonable notice given to the tenant except in emergencies.

Utilities and Other Charges

Disagreements often occur over utility payments when charges exceed what tenants expect or when billing periods are not aligned with tenancy dates. Clauses should clearly outline which utilities are tenant responsibilities, how billing is handled, and who is responsible for paying governmental fees and other charges. It should also specify the procedure for dealing with discrepancies in utility bills.

Renovation Clauses

Renovations may be necessary to maintain the property's condition or comply with new regulations — this is especially relevant for long-term leases. The agreement should clearly define the terms under which renovations are allowed or required, including how much notice is given to tenants and whether compensation for disruption is provided.

Insurance Requirements

Landlords typically take responsibility for insuring the building itself. This type of insurance is known as building insurance — it covers the structure of the property against damage from disasters such as fire, floods, or other significant events that could harm the physical integrity of the building. This insurance aims to ensure that the landlord can afford to repair or rebuild the structure in case of substantial damage, thereby protecting their investment.

On the other hand, tenants are generally responsible for contents insurance. This covers the loss of or damage to their personal belongings within the rented property. Contents insurance is crucial because building insurance does not cover a tenant’s personal items. For instance, if a fire destroys the apartment, the landlord’s insurance would cover the structure but not the tenant's furniture, electronics, clothing, or other personal items.

Clear communication and written agreements about who insures what can prevent numerous potential disputes, especially following unexpected events. For instance, if a pipe bursts and the tenant’s belongings are damaged, contents insurance would help the tenant recover the value of these items without a financial dispute with the landlord. Misunderstandings can arise over liability for damages in the event of fire or other disasters. This is particularly important in a country like Singapore, where high-density living increases the risks associated with damages and claims.

Rent Payment During Post-Tenancy Repairs

Another often overlooked and crucial aspect of tenancy agreements concerns tenant responsibilities during post-tenancy repairs, particularly regarding rent payments. It is essential to clarify whether tenants are required to continue paying rent if they cannot occupy the property while repairs are being carried out. This can become a significant point of contention and potentially lead to disputes if it is not explicitly addressed in the rental agreement.

Role of Landlords, Agents, and Tenants in Singapore in Creating and Resolving Disputes  

This image has been taken from Vecteezy.

To effectively address the roles and responsibilities of landlords, agents, and tenants in Singapore in creating and resolving disputes, we need to explore each party's specific functions and challenges within the Singaporean residential tenancy context framework.


Landlords in Singapore are primarily responsible for ensuring that the property meets legal housing standards and is maintained in good condition. They must provide a safe and habitable environment, which includes attending to major repairs and complying with health and safety regulations. Landlords also play a crucial role in preventing disputes by drafting clear, comprehensive rental agreements that cover all aspects of the tenancy, including rent, duration, and rules regarding the use of the property.

They need to engage diplomatically with tenants and address concerns promptly and effectively to resolve disputes. Regular communication can prevent misunderstandings regarding maintenance responsibilities or lease terms. Also, landlords should refer to the tenancy agreement and seek mediation services before resorting to legal proceedings when disputes arise, as legal proceedings can be time-consuming and costly.


Tenants must understand their rights and obligations under the tenancy agreement. This includes timely rent payments, proper use of the property, and adherence to specified rules, such as those regarding pets or noise levels. They need to thoroughly understand the lease terms to avoid unintentional breaches that may lead to disputes.

Tenants should first communicate their concerns to the landlord or property manager in the event of a dispute. They can seek advice from the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE) or utilise the mediation services provided by the Community Mediation Centre if the issue is not resolved. Tenants may also approach the Small Claims Tribunals for legal disputes, which handle rental disputes involving amounts up to S$20,000 and it can be raised to S$30,000 if both parties agree to this higher limit through a Memorandum of Consent.


Real estate agents in Singapore act as intermediaries between landlords and tenants — they facilitate the negotiation and execution of rental agreements. Agents are responsible for ensuring that both parties understand the terms of the contract. This can help prevent disputes related to misinterpretations or unrealistic expectations.

In dispute situations, agents often serve as the first line of communication, help clarify misunderstandings and mediate solutions. Effective agents maintain neutrality, promote fair negotiations and encourage open dialogue. They can also guide landlords and tenants on the appropriate steps for dispute resolution, including referring to mediation or legal advice when necessary.

Common Sources of Tenancy Disputes and Solutions During Tenancy In Singapore  

The common sources of tenancy disputes in Singapore are security deposit issues, maintenance disagreements, and rent payment problems. Let us take a closer look at those.

Cleaning Disputes

Disputes regarding cleaning at the end of a tenancy are a frequent source of conflict between landlords and tenants. It usually arises over the condition in which the property is returned to the landlord, which can impact the security deposit refund. Landlords may perceive the property as inadequately cleaned, and it can lead to deductions from the security deposit to cover cleaning services. Resorting to trusted professionals like Sendhelper for regular upkeep of the property will save you all the trouble of such a dispute. Your rental agreement should specify the expected condition of cleanliness at the time of handover to avoid such disputes. Both parties can benefit from conducting a joint inspection at move-in and move-out and documenting the property's condition with detailed photographs. This approach helps set clear expectations and reduces the potential for disagreements over what constitutes acceptable cleanliness.

Security Deposit Disputes

Disagreements over security deposits frequently arise due to different interpretations of ‘fair wear and tear.’ In Singapore, landlords hold a security deposit to cover damages or unpaid rent. The primary issue here is when landlords perceive damages as exceeding normal wear and tear, and tenants disagree. Resolving these disputes often relies on thorough move-in and move-out inspections, ideally documented with detailed photographs and signed inventory lists to provide clear benchmarks for property condition at both points.

Maintenance Disputes

These disputes generally revolve around confusion over responsibilities for repairs and maintenance. Singapore law requires landlords to maintain the property's structural integrity and the tenants to manage daily maintenance tasks including plumbing, electrical repairs, and air conditioning. However, specifics can vary by agreement. Clearly defined responsibilities in the tenancy agreement and prompt reporting of issues are crucial. Keeping detailed receipts and service reports can also prevent disputes. For instance, Sendhelper’s air conditioning service includes comprehensive reports that document maintenance --- they provide clear evidence of upkeep that can be useful during move-out inspections. Disputes can be avoided by explicitly defining maintenance duties in the rental agreement and setting up straightforward procedures for tenants to report maintenance issues and for landlords to address these reports promptly.

Rent Payment Disputes

Late or missed rent payments can significantly strain the landlord-tenant relationship. Such disputes are often due to tenants facing sudden financial difficulties or misunderstandings about payment terms. Clarity in the rental agreement about payment schedules, grace periods, and late fees is crucial. Facilitating automated payments can also help prevent these issues by ensuring consistent and timely payments. Moreover, landlords considering flexible payment options or plans can help manage these disputes when tenants face genuine financial setbacks.

Tenancy Considerations Across Housing Types in Singapore to Avoid Disputes

This image has been taken from Vecteezy.

Each housing type requires specific considerations in drafting tenancy agreements to mitigate potential disputes and ensure that the responsibilities and rights of both parties are clear. Understanding these nuances is key to maintaining harmonious landlord-tenant relationships across Singapore’s diverse housing landscape.

HDB Flats

Regulatory Environment

HDB flats are subject to specific regulations that govern who can rent them, the duration of the tenancy, and the rights and responsibilities of tenants and landlords. These rules are in place to ensure the affordable public housing sector remains accessible and not subjected to speculative practices.  

Subletting Restrictions

Subletting HDB flats is tightly controlled. Landlords must seek approval from HDB before subletting and ensure that they adhere to the stipulated occupancy caps. Violations can lead to substantial penalties, including the compulsory acquisition of the flat by HDB.

Duration of Tenancy

The maximum permissible rental period for HDBs is set at three years if all tenants are Singaporeans or Malaysians, and it is considerably shorter than those for private properties. This is designed to prevent long-term leasing that could lead to a de facto transfer of ownership rights. However, the rental period is capped at two years for non-Malaysian non-citizens — it includes Singapore Permanent Residents and foreigners. It is also important to note that renting out bedrooms for non-residential purposes, such as accommodating tourists, commercial filming, or storing goods, is strictly prohibited. These stipulations help ensure that HDB properties are used primarily for residential purposes and remain aligned with the broader objectives of Singapore's public housing policy.

Cultural and Social Considerations

Tenancy agreements for HDB flats also often include clauses related to the upkeep of common areas and participation in community activities, reflecting the communal living environment.

Private Condominiums

Management Corporation Rules

Condominiums in Singapore are managed by Management Corporations Strata Title (MCST), which enforces rules about the use of common facilities like pools, gyms, and function rooms. Tenants must adhere to these rules, and disputes often arise from misunderstandings or misuse of these shared resources.

Maintenance of Shared Facilities

The cost of maintaining common facilities typically falls to the landlord, who pays these fees as part of their owner's responsibilities. However, disputes can arise over issues such as increases in these fees during the tenancy period, which can affect the overall rental costs.

Security and Privacy Concerns

Given the shared nature of spaces in condominiums, security and privacy are significant considerations. Tenancy agreements should clearly outline what is expected in terms of guest management and access to private versus communal areas.

Duration of Tenancy

Private condominiums are subject to regulations that set a minimum tenancy period of three months. This measure is intended to discourage very short-term leases and ensure that properties are used for more stable residential purposes. While the minimum is set at three months, most tenancy agreements typically range from one to two years, and it depends on the agreement between the landlord and tenant. Landlords and tenants may negotiate longer terms if it suits the needs of both parties, particularly in cases where stability is favoured over flexibility. All the terms including conditions for renewal and termination should be clearly outlined in the lease agreement to prevent any misunderstandings and ensure smooth tenancy relations.

Landed Properties

Maintenance and Repairs

Landed property tenancies often involve extensive clauses concerning the maintenance of the property, given the larger size and additional elements such as gardens or pools. Disputes can arise over who is responsible for regular maintenance and dealing with wear and tear over time.

Privacy and Property Access

These properties provide more privacy compared to HDB flats and condominiums. This could lead to different tenant expectations and potential disputes, particularly regarding landlord access for inspections and maintenance.

Lease Terms and Modifications

Tenants of landed properties may seek to modify the premises through activities like landscaping and exterior alterations to suit personal tastes or needs. It is crucial for tenancy agreements to specify what modifications are permissible and under what conditions, to prevent disputes.

Duration of Tenancy

Unlike HDB flats that have strict rental period regulations, and condominiums, where leases typically run for one to two years, the tenancy period for landed properties in Singapore can be more variable. Landed home leases may range from short-term agreements to long-term leases extending several years depending on the landlord's preferences and the negotiation between the tenant and the landlord. This flexibility allows for more personalised arrangements that can better accommodate the varying needs of landlords and tenants. It is essential for both parties to clearly agree on the duration of the tenancy and any conditions for renewal in the rental agreement to ensure there are no misunderstandings.

Preventive Measures and Effective Dispute Resolution

Developing Clear, Comprehensive Agreements

Effective tenancy agreements are legal documents that are also communication tools that clearly set expectations. Including details such as payment timelines, specific maintenance obligations, rules regarding renovations, and conditions for termination can prevent many common disputes. Regular updates to these agreements are essential to incorporate changes in the law or property conditions.

Mediation and Legal Recourse

Mediation is a preferred method because it promotes understanding and solutions without the adversarial nature of court proceedings. Services like the Singapore Mediation Centre specialise in real estate disputes and offer tailored solutions that help preserve business relationships and provide a quicker resolution than litigation. This method is less formal, but it often results in outcomes favourable to both parties.

Legal Recourse for Breaches

More stringent actions may be necessary when breaches occur. Legal recourse provides a structured avenue for enforcement and compensation. Landlords can file for damages in the Magistrate's Court or District Court, depending on the claim size. The process of distress, while severe, is regulated to ensure fairness — it requires landlords to apply through the court for a Writ of Distress, which is executed by court-appointed officers.

Small Claims Tribunals (SCT)

The SCT is an invaluable resource for handling smaller disputes efficiently. Its process is designed to be user-friendly, and it allows landlords and tenants to represent themselves without the need for legal representation. The SCT can handle cases involving rental deposits, unpaid rent, and breaches of rental agreement terms. It also provides a compulsory mediation session as part of its proceedings to encourage settlement before a formal hearing.

Specialised Mediation for Commercial Leases

For commercial leases, where disputes may be more complex due to the scale and nature of the agreements, specialised mediation through the Fair Tenancy Industry Committee (FTIC) under the Code of Conduct provides a sector-specific resolution mechanism. This approach understands the unique aspects of commercial tenancies and offers resolutions that account for business impacts and commercial realities.

Prioritising Rental Harmony in Singapore

Disputes during tenancy can be avoided largely through clear communication, a thorough understanding of legal rights and obligations, and proper drafting of tenancy agreements. Landlords and tenants should strive to be proactive in their approach to renting properties in Singapore — they should seek clarity and legal advice where necessary. Routine care and proper upkeep of the rental property are essential to avoid mishaps. If you are too lazy to do it, seek services from the best service providers in Singapore, like Sendhelper, for services like routine cleaning, repair works, move-in and move-out cleaning, etc.— you don’t want to run into tenancy disputes anyway. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

Services recommended for you