There are system loopholes in tenancy practices in the residential property market, in particular the protection of tenants' rental deposits.
My landlord collaborated with his agent to hold back and unfairly deduct from my deposit after my tenancy expired, over cost incurred from damage to a door.
When my tenancy expired, I wanted a joint inspection with the landlord before the formal handover and to discuss any repair issues. There was no joint inspection. I handed over the keys to the agent as per the landlord's instructions.
There was no letter of underwriting or indemnity form to protect me from any loss or damage after the expiry of tenancy.
After the agent took over the keys, he conducted his own inspection and informed me that there was damage to the main entrance door.
I offered to get the door repaired and presented a quotation from a contractor to repair the door. Instead, the landlord chose to get a different quotation to replace the door (which was a much higher price than mine), and went with that price which was deducted from my deposit.
I turned to the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA), which escalated it to the real estate firm to follow up. The agency did not contact me for details, relying on its agent's account, and concluded that there was no misconduct.
I sought legal redress, and the judge from the Small Claims Tribunal ruled in my favour that the landlord was not entitled to deduct the cost of door replacement from my deposit. The money was returned to me.
The tribunal also approved a Request for Record of Tribunal for CEA's further investigation.
The CEA told me that it "is not empowered to resolve issues related to property management work (for example, repairs) and landlord/tenant disputes (for example, on handing over of properties at the end of a tenancy period or refund of deposits)". It added: "We are also unable to intervene in cases on monetary and contractual disputes."
My experience highlights the shortcomings of the present system for rental deposits and the lack of tenant protection.
To safeguard rental deposits, we can learn from Australia where deposits are paid to an independent body. When a rental agreement ends, the landlords and tenants have equal say in how the deposit should be repaid. The independent body releases the money as agreed.
Paul Yong Teck Chong