Protect landlords and tenants from unscrupulous real estate agents

A view of the Singapore skyline, including HDB flats, taken from the Medical Library of Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.
A view of the Singapore skyline, including HDB flats, taken from the Medical Library of Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine.PHOTO: ST FILE

The Government has been encouraging the elderly to use their flat to finance their retirement. And my mother did precisely that by renting out her four-room Housing Board flat.

Through an agent from a well-known real estate agency, we found six foreign workers as tenants.

Months later, an HDB officer called and said neighbours had complained about many people going in and out of my mother's flat.

The agent went with the HDB officer to do a spot check on Sept 2.

After the spot check, the agent sent us photos to show that our flat was all right, and said that he had given the tenants a stern warning. We were thankful to him for disciplining the tenants and thought the episode was over.

On Sept 12, the HDB officer called again to say our neighbour had sent him closed-circuit television footage of the agent removing partitions about two hours before the scheduled time for the spot check, and bringing the partitions back later.

In the evening of the same day, we went to the flat to do a spot check. To our chagrin, the door lock had been changed, so we called the police.

When we finally managed to get in, we saw that there were many partitions in the living room, the kitchen was messy, and even the storeroom had been cleared to put in a bed.

The police rounded up all the occupants - there were 12 in total when the legal limit is six. Only three were legal tenants registered with HDB.

When the police asked them how they secured our home, they replied that they had seen a rental ad.

How many landlords have been victimised by such unscrupulous agents? How many foreign workers have been lured by such online ads that sublet our highly subsidised public housing?

One police officer even told us that he had come across a five-room flat that was sublet to more than 20 tenants.

After the tenants are evicted, my mum will have to spend money to tidy up and repair the flat on top of the loss of rental income. Will the real estate agency get the agent to compensate my mum?

Perhaps property agents should be made to pay a deposit so that victimised clients can claim for damages. The deposit should be substantial enough to serve as a deterrent.

Ng Poh Leng

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2019, with the headline 'Protect landlords and tenants from unscrupulous real estate agents'. Subscribe