We’ve talked about how landlords can manage 5 types of difficult tenants in this previous article. But these fraught relationships often go both ways; tenants deal with nightmarish landlords too. And they often seem to be on “the losing end” when it comes to a tenant-landlord dispute, because the roof over their heads usually belongs to the landlord.
So we’re bringing back the #1 legal document you cannot overlook when renting, or leasing, a place: the Tenancy Agreement (TA).
We’ll be zooming in on the 5 types of landlords from hell, so you can understand their modus operandi and how you can use your TA to apply the right counter strategy and manage your landlord’s antics.
How to deal with these 5 landlords from hell
#1: The Nasty Surprise
Did you know your landlord is not allowed to pop up unannounced at your door? Yes, we get that the house belongs to them. But as a tenant, you are entitled to a blessed thing called Quiet Enjoyment. (Yes, that is the actual term. If only you can actually enjoy peace and quiet all the time, right?)
You can read all about what a landlord can or cannot do in the CEA’s Tenancy Agreement template for HDBs, under Clause 7.
Quiet Enjoyment denotes that as long as you pay your rent punctually, and observe and perform all your tenant’s duties as per the TA, you shall peaceably hold and enjoy the flat during your lease term without any interruption by the landlord.
This means no surprise spot checks and inspections, no barging in because they “left something there and need it urgently”, and definitely no bringing in new tenants for viewings when your lease is almost up. In fact, there should be no unannounced visits at all, even if your landlord tries to be clever about it and comes bearing gifts and a wide smile.
For any viewings they may need to hold or should they need to enter the premises for any valid reasons, the TA should also indicate a timeframe where they have to give you advance notice before dropping by.
Likewise, your landlord cannot spring a renovation or home modification on you while you live in the property. While the odd tenant may welcome a refreshed look for the house they’re living in, most will baulk at the idea of living in a debris and dust-filled location for the entirety of the alteration works.
#2: The Fixer Upper
Again, a quick look at the TA for HDBs will show you an entire section (under Clause 4) which details the types of repair work a tenant must or must not take upon themselves to carry out.
While a tenant is responsible for all minor repairs and replacement of parts and other expendable items such as electrical appliances and light bulbs, major repair work like faulty electrical wiring, leaking sanitary pipes, or structural issues should be handled by the landlord, with the costs borne by them, as long as the faulty or damage was not caused by you or your guests.
Here, you may meet the sort of landlord who thinks anything and everything that falls apart should be rectified by you. After all, you are the one living on the premises, right? Wrong.
Most TAs specifically disallow tenants to DIY repair work. This is called Self-Help Remedy, and it indicates that tenants are not to undertake or authorise repairs without prior written consent from the landlord (text messages serve as written consent too).
If you go ahead with maintenance or repair works, which the landlord is obliged to carry out (according to the TA), without giving him/her sufficient time to initiate it, any costs incurred for the repair cannot be claimed from him/her. So don’t be tricked into being free labour or a convenient ATM for repair work that should have been your landlord’s responsibility.
You should take photos of the premises before you move in and report any defects to your landlord, in writing, during the Problem-Free Period, so there is mutual understanding that you did not cause these defects and that they were already there upon moving in. Your landlord will be responsible for rectifying these identified faults.
#3: The Editor
Once your TA is signed, it is final. For the duration of the lease, your landlord cannot edit the terms and clauses at whim. However, there will always be indecisive ones who will try. For instance, if your TA states you are allowed to do light cooking within the house, unless you set fire to the kitchen or have caused damage to the property by whipping up a greasy and odoriferous feast every night, your landlord cannot do an about turn and demand you cease all cooking activities because they regret their decision in allowing you to use their prized stove or that oven they secretly want to sell off.
On that same note, if your lease catered for a partially or fully furnished apartment, your landlord cannot start pruning the appliances and furniture they have provided within the unit at will. A detailed Inventory List will be your best friend in countering such landlords.
Your landlord likely lives in a second home that will also experience wear and tear. They cannot happily waltz in to whisk off a sofa that was included in the TA and Inventory List to replace the damaged one in the one they are living in.
If your landlord absolutely must remove something from your residence, you must absolutely insist they update the inventory list so the removal is documented. This will protect you from being charged for any removed items when your lease is up.
#4: The Voyeur
Beware of hidden cameras! Your landlord cannot install any surveillance equipment, hidden or otherwise, within the premises. Before you sign on the TA, your landlord must disclose the existence of any surveillance devices to you. This is an infringement of your privacy and possibly even your modesty, so make sure to do a proper inspection for such devices before you sign on the TA.
While it is legal for landlords to install cameras outside the house, you may want to question the necessity of its presence: Is your landlord expecting troublemakers like loan sharks or debt collectors, or do they want to keep tabs on any visitors you may have?
#5: The Crook
Lawbreakers could be tenants, but they could very well be landlords too. If your landlord requests your help to hoard illegal or contraband items in the house, and tries to sweeten the deal for you by lowering rent, just remember the consequences are not worth the rent discount.
As you are the one living on premises, your landlord could make you a scapegoat should the illicit items be discovered. Even if they are apprehended, you will likely be implicated as an accomplice or be charged for being an accessory to the crime since you chose not to report your landlord.
You should contact your real estate agent immediately in such cases. If you were not represented by one, contact a legal representative or the police.
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