At least 100 foreign students have been left counting the cost of a legal row between two companies dealing with real estate.
While several have gone to the police after failing to get their $800 security deposit back, others have been forced to move out despite having paid their rent for the next few months.
One of them is Ms Ayu Kalika, a 20-year-old Indonesian studying at James Cook University's (JCU) Singapore campus. She was one of 15 JCU students living in a landed property at Casuarina Road who were suddenly asked to leave two weeks ago.
They had already paid their rents to subletting company Kaizerhalls Investments. But on Dec 20, another company, Poma International, told them it was the legal tenant of the property.
"Then it pasted a notice in the living room to ask us to sign a contract with it if we wanted to continue to stay in the house," said Ms Kalika, who had not heard of Poma before then.
The student had paid Kaizer- halls rent of $750 a month to cover her stay in the house until February. She is now staying in a unit at Thomson View after JCU stepped in to arrange alternative housing.
When The Straits Times visited Kaizerhalls' office at Midview City last Friday, it was closed. On its website, the company, which was registered in September 2011, says it is currently managing 27 properties as student accommodation, and its clients include those from JCU and PSB Academy.
A check by The Straits Times revealed that Kaizerhalls had entered a franchise agreement with Poma in April last year.
Kaizerhalls apparently transferred the tenancy of several properties to Poma for a fee. In return, it managed the students living there, and each month took a cut from the rental and passed the rest to Poma.
But in August, after Kaizerhalls failed to make its payments, both companies terminated the agreement. As part of the deal, Kaizerhalls had to pay some $260,000 to Poma. When that was not done, Poma sued. Kaizerhalls also failed to appear in court, which entered a default judgment on Nov 19 in favour of Poma.
Court documents revealed that 10 properties were part of the lawsuit. It is understood at least five were used to accommodate students, most of whom were from JCU. Each property housed between seven and 15 people.
Students have also complained about Kaizerhalls' failure to refund the security deposit after their tenancy had expired.
Mr Yash Puranik, 27, a master's student at JCU, had rented a room in a landed property from Kaizerhalls in June before moving out in October. "It issued a cheque only this month, dated Dec 13," said the Indian national, who has lodged a police report along with seven others. "But in the early morning of Dec 13, I got a message from Kaizerhalls to say the cheque cannot be used."
On Dec 16, Kaizerhalls conducted a briefing at JCU to inform students that it will update them soon. Students estimated that at least 100 from JCU were present.
Mr Suhaimy Hassan, principal policy officer at JCU, said the school has no formal relationship with both companies, but is in touch with them to work out a solution for students.
When asked why students staying at Casuarina Road had to leave before their tenancy was up, Kaizerhalls' director Ken Ong King Huat said: "The tenancy... is between the landlord and Poma."
The Straits Times understands that at least two of Kaizerhalls' staff have left the company. "The management told us to leave as it could not pay us our salary," said a female employee who left.
When asked to elaborate, Mr Ong said in an e-mail reply: "It is unfortunate the general manager has left the company without notice. Since his sudden departure, the team has been working hard to resolve all internal issues."
Poma has given students until tomorrow to consider four options, including giving them free rent for next month after signing a four-month contract. Students who sign up for twice as long will be reimbursed $800.
When contacted, Poma's director Marcella Sulindro said: "If they don't (sign with us), they may have to make other arrangements on their own."
A 19-year-old Indonesian student, who declined to be named, said he has paid Kaizerhalls rent, at $850 a month, for up until next October. "If I take up Poma's offer, I will lose nine months' of paid rent. I am not sure what I will do now."