Proposal to let assessors specify rent waiver sum in disputes

Bill follows June move requiring landlords to waive rent for eligible SMEs hit by pandemic

Landlords who are unable to reach an agreement with pandemic-affected tenants on whether the tenants are eligible for rental waivers can apply to have assessors appointed by the Ministry of Law make a determination. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG
Landlords who are unable to reach an agreement with pandemic-affected tenants on whether the tenants are eligible for rental waivers can apply to have assessors appointed by the Ministry of Law make a determination. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

Assessors appointed by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) to deal with disputes under the rental relief framework would 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 tenants and sub-tenants affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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

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

The proposed amendments introduced in Parliament yesterday will allow assessors to specify the amount of rent to be waived 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 clarify an existing part 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, regardless of whether safe distancing regulations change or cease.

Currently, organisations and entities are allowed to do so until Sept 30, but MinLaw said an extension will be announced soon.

It added that the amendments tabled yesterday, if passed, will keep Singapore's legal interventions relevant and responsive to the uncertainty from Covid-19.

The ministry said it is aiming for the amendments to take effect before the end of the month.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 04, 2020, with the headline Proposal to let assessors specify rent waiver sum in disputes. Subscribe