Parliament: Assessors can specify rent waiver amount for tenants under proposed changes to Covid-19 Act

Landlords can get assessors to determine whether they can provide tenants a reduced amount of the rental waivers, on the basis of financial hardship.
Landlords can get assessors to determine whether they can provide tenants a reduced amount of the rental waivers, on the basis of financial hardship. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

SINGAPORE - Assessors appointed by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) to deal with disputes under the rental relief framework will be given enhanced powers to specify the amount of rent to be waived in some cases, under proposed amendments to the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act.

This is the second time amendments have been proposed to the Act.

In June, the first amendments were passed to require landlords to waive rent for eligible small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) tenants and sub-tenants that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.

Landlords who are unable to reach an agreement with these tenants on whether the latter are eligible for the rental waivers - the portion supported by government assistance and/or the portion borne by the landlord - are able to apply to have the assessors make a determination.

The landlords can also get assessors to determine whether they can provide tenants a reduced amount of the rental waivers, on the basis of financial hardship.

The proposed amendments, which were introduced in Parliament on Thursday (Sept 3), will allow assessors to specify the amount of rent to be waived for tenants under the framework.

This will apply when the amount is affected by maintenance and service charges, especially if they are not listed in the lease or licence agreement; when the amount could be offset by assistance provided earlier by the landlord; when the tenant is occupying the property for only a part of the relief period; and when there are multiple sub-tenants in the same property.

In addition, the amendment Bill will also clarify the existing Part 8 of the Act - not yet in force - that allows parties of some contracts to get relief if they are affected by breaches or delays in construction, supply or related contracts.

It will specify that no application for relief for such contracts can be filed if court, arbitral or Building and Construction Industry Security of Payment Act (Sopa) proceedings related to the application have already started.

Conversely, once an application for relief has been filed, the other parties of the contract cannot commence court, arbitral or Sopa proceedings for the same matter, until a determination is made or the application is rejected or withdrawn.

If a determination is made and the terms of the contract are adjusted, any subsequent applications and determinations made under Sopa must be based on the adjusted contract terms.

 
 

In cases where a Sopa application is made before the other party seeks relief under the Act, the Sopa adjudicator will have powers to grant relief - similar to that of the assessors - to account for the impact of Covid-19.

The amendments to the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act will also include continuing to allow alternative arrangements for meetings, such as annual general meetings, to prevent the spread of Covid-19, regardless of whether safe distancing regulations change or cease.

Currently, organisations and entities are allowed to do so until Sept 30.

MinLaw said it will announce an extension of the time frame "soon" to give greater certainty and confidence to organisations in convening or holding meetings using alternative arrangements.

 
 
 

It added that if passed, the amendments tabled on Thursday will keep Singapore's legal interventions relevant and responsive to the continued uncertainty brought about by Covid-19.

"Further details of these amendments are still being worked out and will be announced separately," said MinLaw, adding that it is aiming for the amendments and the necessary changes in subsidiary legislation to take effect before the end of this month.