The “circuit breaker” has shut down most of the country to subdue the onslaught of the Coronavirus. The property market dislocation has put an end to most property portfolios and house rentals too, are scarce. The circuit breaker, which was meant to last till May 4th has now been extended till June 1st.
Unlike commercial tenants, who are being offered relief from rent payments up to 6 months, tenants and landlords of residential properties find themselves in a soup.
If you’re in the middle of a property transaction or you need the tenant to take possession of your vacant apartment/HDB, how should you proceed during this lockdown period? What protocols do you need to take whilst self-isolation and social distancing measures are in place?
Here is everything you need to know about renting a house during the circuit breaker period.
#1. What is considered an essential housing service?
According to the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI), moving homes is an essential service. This means that only those moves can go ahead, with the proper precautions, that are too far along to cease activity, i.e. parties involved are contractually obliged to proceed, or if the property has already been emptied.
Apart from moving homes other essential home services include:
- Vector control services (e.g pest control and fumigation)
- Provision of facilities management services (e.g plumbing, locksmith repairs, electrical works),
- Conservancy services (e.g bulk waste removal) are included in this list of essential services.
To receive latest updates on Government guidelines and changes to essential services, visit PropertyGuru or sign up for WhatsApp alerts by messaging 8129 0065.
#2. What are my rights as a tenant / landlord?
Under the latest advisory, tenants and landlords must delay existing transactions unless absolutely urgent. Both parties are urged to be flexible in these trying times.
- If the tenancy agreement is expiring this month, the landlords must extend the lease and not force the tenant to vacate the property till the end of the circuit breaker period.
- It is important to inform your Landlord if you have been issued a Stay-At-Home notice or home quarantine order. However landlords too, on learning this piece of information, are not allowed to evict any tenants on home quarantine or SHN (Stay Home Notice).
- If the tenant is having difficulty paying rent, it is strongly recommended that the landlord and tenant initiate discussions and come up with a mutually acceptable short-term payment plan. The landlords could provide some temporary rental relief to counter the financial issues of the tenant. Seek the help of your real estate agent to iron out problems and ease your landlord-tenant relationship. Ultimately, no landlord would prefer to look for a new tenant in these challenging times.
According to Council of Estate Agencies (CEA), some tenants (HDB or private), who are due to shift to their new rented homes are affected, as renovation works have been put on hold under the current circumstances. These tenants could negotiate an extension of their existing lease and defer the commencement of their new lease. Real estate agents can assist, online or remotely, to facilitate negotiations between both parties to reach a mutually beneficial agreement.
#3. What about virtual apartment viewings and signing contracts?
Most residential complexes are not allowing visitor viewings, and therefore new rental deals are put on hold or made rare. Unless the landlord can give the tenant a virtual tour of the property or upload a video of the premises, property agents can collaborate with landlords and tenants to sign a one-off agreement electronically.
- Real estate agents can neither meet their clients for viewing nor accompany their clients for the signing of documents.
- For tenancy agreements, electronic signatures are valid for executing a property transaction document, according to the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA). The agents can liaise with their clients to review the transaction document or receive updates via phone and video call.
A word of caution – Don’t forget to read through the digital document carefully before signing and clicking ‘send’!
#4. What if I have a hand-over?
If an in-person/ physical handover has to go ahead, then your property agent will not be able to accompany you. Instead, they can facilitate the process and advise you remotely via online and digital means, or simply via phone and text message.
Ideally, handovers/takeovers should be deferred until further notice where possible.
#5. Are movers and packers still working?
To proceed with home relocation services, all movers and packers must apply for a general exemption to continue running operations via Government GoBusiness licensing website.
Before hiring a moving company that can aid you with the move, please ensure that they have received this general exemption from the Government to continue their operations during the suspension period.
All moving staff must wear masks and gloves, and practice the one-metre safe distancing measures to minimise the risk to themselves and homeowners.
Going through a rental transaction during the circuit breaker period can be taxing, but it is important to be cautious and follow Government directives, or else the retributions for breaking the law are irreversible.
The Coronavirus pandemic has set some remarkably volatile circumstances in motion. We are reeling in its side effects knowing well that these uncertain times will cast a long lasting gloomy shadow on our prospective future.
But even amidst these precarious times, the rental market of Singapore saw a ray of hope. Singapore’s condo and HDB rentals saw a 0.3% increase in March, a likely surge in rentals, as many foreign workers required immediate lodging before the circuit breaker measures were imposed in Malaysia.
In time to come, expat demand for rentals may deteriorate due to loss of jobs and pay reductions, but rents won’t see a spiralling decline even after the circuit breaker period, as the vacancy remains tight below the historical average of 8 per cent.
This article is written by Manasi Hukku. Manasi likes to cover the intersection between research and relevance to help readers find a place they’ll love. She is a Medium columnist, mother of two and UX Conversation Designer.