How can tenants and landlords resolve fair wear and tear issues with rental property?

SINGAPORE: After seven years staying in Singapore, Ms Ngo was eager to move to Canada with her husband and infant.

However, when they terminated their two-year lease on a rental flat in Singapore, they encountered difficulties with their landlord.

Their landlord withdrew approximately S$2,000 from their S$3,600 two-month deposit for damage to the unit, as well as the expense of thorough cleaning and a prorated agent’s charge.

Among the damage claimed were sink crack lines, tile discoloration, and staining on the kitchen top.

The landlord also mentioned the need to replace the toilet bowl seat, the cooker hood bulb, and repair a toilet light, according to Ms Ngo, who declined to give her full name.

“I was astounded that (the landlord) was so demanding when we handed over,” she told CNA over phone from Canada.

She and her spouse are arguing that several of the concerns are the result of “fair wear and tear.”

Fair wear and tear, according to real estate brokers and attorneys, refers to damage to property caused by normal use of the premises.

This could include worn-out edges on furniture, scratches and marks on parquet floors, curtain colors fading in direct sunlight, and oil and fume stains on a kitchen hood.

“A landlord cannot deduct these costs from the deposit since it is unrealistic to expect the property to be in the same condition at the end of the tenancy as it was at the start,” said Ms Victoria Lee Soo Pin, a counsel at IRB Law.

She noted, however, that damage such as a burned or badly discolored carpet, a misplaced key caused by an overflowing bathtub or sink can be recovered from the deposit.

If a dining chair is “irreparably broken” as part of a set, the landlord can claim the cost of replacing a single chair, Ms Lee said. However, the landlord cannot demand the full cost of the set.

TENANT AND LANDLORD RESPONSIBILITIES

IRB Law handles approximately 50 to 60 landlord-tenant matters per month, Ms Lee said.

She noted that common difficulties include landlords refusing to refund lease deposits for issues such as broken things and odors in the residence.

“In fact, we see more instances of genuine damage when equipment such as the air conditioner, washing machine, or television breaks down during the tenancy,” she explained.

Cleaning is another frequent source of contention, as it can be a “subjective problem,” she added. “Some cases of normal wear and tear might be enhanced by a thorough cleaning.”

Ms Lee observed that tenancy agreements typically include a clause requiring a property to be cleaned to a professional quality upon a tenant’s departure. While this quality may vary depending on the original condition of the home, it generally entails cleaning to a “very high degree,” she explained.

When tenants return a property, they should submit a comprehensive invoice from the cleaner to demonstrate that the place has been cleaned, Ms Lee added.

Occasionally, tenants misunderstand their obligations, according to Ms Lee. For example, tenants are often responsible for changing light bulbs once they vacate the premises.

In terms of landlords, some believe they can spend the tenant’s security deposit to undertake general repairs.

“The deposit is the tenant’s property and should be repaid at the end of the term. Deductions from tenancy deposits should be negotiated and agreed upon by both parties,” she explained.

LANDLORDS AND TENANTS CAN PROTECT THEMSELVES

Ms Ngo stated that she investigated the house prior to moving in, but “not as thoroughly” as it came empty.

“In the past, I’ve frequently had issues with the landlord’s furniture. I’ve never had an issue with the wall, toilet, or sink… As a result, I wasn’t paying close attention because the unit arrived empty,” she explained to CNA.

She also did not snap many shots, as the subjects “weren’t obvious” or were not subjects she generally paid attention to. As a result, she lacks photographs of the objects or issues in dispute with her landlord.

Disputes over reasonable wear and tear are a “regular occurrence,” according to Propnex chief executive officer Lim Yong Hock. “It’s a regular occurrence, particularly if they weren’t extremely specific at the time of handover.”

At the point of handing over, there are basically two reports, according to KnightFrank property agent. The condition report should be as detailed as feasible and accompanied by photographs.

When tenants move in, it is recommended that they snap numerous photographs and email them to the landlord to ensure the landlord acknowledges the condition.

Tenants should promptly report any incidents that occur during the lease, he stressed.

It is also critical for tenants, landlords, and brokers to establish realistic expectations for potential damage, according to Mr Yeo.

He mentioned, for example, a frequent disagreement over walls with scuffs near electrical switches. Certain landlords may require renters to repaint an entire wall or perhaps the entire house.

“So it’s best to specify this at the start of the tenancy agreement – regarding the walls, do you need me to repaint the entire space or can I return it to you with a few scuffs?,” Mr Yeo explained.

He provided another illustration of parquet flooring. Period certain flaws are to be expected after a while, some landlords may demand the floor to be in “showroom condition,” he explained.

Chemical cleaning of air-conditioning units may also be a point of contention.

“Perhaps it is beneficial if everyone creates a checklist and states that these are all the potential problems; we should clarify,” he remarked.

The leasing agreement should include a summary of crucial points to ensure tenants are fully informed, according to Ms Lee. “The tenants should understand what they are and are not permitted to do.”

Additionally, she continued, a competent property agent should educate tenants on what constitutes misuse.

THE IMPORTANCE OF THE AGENT

When Ms Ngo and her hubby received the damage charges, they attempted to explain the situation to the agent by stating that certain materials were more stain-prone.

She stated that despite their attempts to negotiate a share of the costs, particularly for wear and tear, the landlord was adamant in his refusal to budge.

Ms Ngo then informed the agent that she had retained a third party to mediate and that they would pursue the matter through the Small Claims Tribunal.

“From that moment forward, he ceased any contact with us. He never read any of our WhatsApp messages, which served as our sole mode of communication. When we attempted to contact him via WhatsApp, he did not respond,” she explained.

Mr Lim of Propnex asserts that agents are not obligated to mediate issues between renters and landlords.

“According to the CEA (Council for Estate Agents), the agent’s obligation stops when we hand over the premises to the parties,” he explained, adding that such disagreements are typically settled without the agent’s involvement.

Agents may become engaged, however, if renters or landlords write to the authorities to lodge a complaint against the agent, he observed.

According to Mr Yeo’s experience, agents “typically (end up as) the punching bag,” and they will need to manage both parties’ expectations.

What can i do in the event of a dispute?

When renters and landlords disagree, they can file a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal or attempt mediation, according to Mr Yeo.

Agents are unable to assist in resolving conflicts, Mr Lim stated, adding that agents typically send parties to an independent mediator.

Tenants should evaluate many considerations if they disagree with their landlord’s estimate of property damage, according to Ms Lee.

This comprises the property’s age and condition at the start of the tenancy, the duration of the tenancy or lease, and the number of occupants.

For example, wear and tear over a five-year tenancy will be larger than over a six-month tenancy, and a family of five with little children will cause more wear and tear than a young professional couple who are out working the majority of the day, she explained.

If there is damage to the property, the landlord should attempt to repair or clean the item before disposing of it and forcing the renter to pay for a replacement.

When an item needs to be changed, the landlord should avoid replacing it with a more expensive one, as they are not allowed to benefit from it, according to Ms Lee.

“It is the landlord’s responsibility to establish that the renter harmed the object through overuse. This may entail obtaining contractors to determine if there has been misuse and providing a quote to fix the damage,” she noted.

“If the parties remain at odds, see if a third party, such as the property agent who rented the unit, may act as a go-between.”