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As a Foreigner Is Your Landlord Withholding Your Security Deposit?

Is It True That Landlords Retain My Security Deposit If I Am A Foreign Tenant?

With the number of foreign expatriates working in Singapore, it is common to find most of them renting properties for periods between 6 months to 2 years, given that it is not economically sound for expatriates to purchase residential properties in Singapore.

Like all tenancies, a common dispute that arises is over the return of security deposit.

Are Foreign Expatriates Easy Targets For Landlords?

As expatriates are often working in Singapore for a limited period of time, some expatriates may find themselves in the unfortunate situation whereby their security deposits are withheld by their landlords. This is further exacerbated by the fact that expatriates are only living in Singapore temporarily, making it difficult for them to commence legal proceedings against such landlords, if they are leaving Singapore soon for either their home country or another country. Further, as foreign expatriates are not familiar with the Singapore law, this again lends to the narrative that they form easy targets for landlords to take advantage of.   

As such, foreign expatriates may find it worthwhile to withhold payment of the last two months of rent, should they think or have a suspicion that the landlord may withhold the security deposit. By doing so, foreign expatriates are able to prevent being in the situation of having the security deposit unreasonably withheld by the landlord. In fact, there are several tight knit communities of expatriates in Singapore on social media, and this is a well-known method amongst expatriates to bypass the potential issue with landlords. In short, it’s “better be safe than sorry”.

However, this narrative of horror stories with security deposits being withheld by landlords may encourage expatriate tenants to promote and exhibit such bad behaviour. Landlords have found themselves in the situation whereby an expatriate tenant has handed over the rented property and has left Singapore. Thereafter, the landlord found out that there were damages to the property and that the security deposit used to cover the outstanding rent for the remaining month was insufficient to pay for monies used to rectify the said damages. However by then, the expatriate ex-tenant is no longer in Singapore nor contactable.

The Legal Position In Singapore

In Singapore, the law favours landlords over tenants, both local and foreign. Whilst a tenant may wish to seek legal proceedings against the landlord for unreturned security deposit, economic factors should be taken into account – whether your claim is worth commencing a suit.

It may not be economically worthwhile for a tenant to sue the landlord to recover the security deposit as legal costs may well exceed the security deposit. Furthermore, should one find his claim under $20,000 and wish to proceed filing said claim under the Small Claims Tribunal, one’s presence is required in Singapore. This is practicable to many expatriates who have left Singapore and/or cannot commit the time and effort into legal proceedings in Singapore.

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What Can I Do To Prevent This?

It is thus important for one to consult a lawyer before signing the tenancy agreement with the landlord. One way to ensure a prompt return of the security deposit, is to have a clause stipulating a deadline for the return of the security deposit drafted by a lawyer and inserted into the tenancy agreement.

Should the landlord refuse to return the security deposit within the stipulated timeframe as set out in the tenancy agreement, despite you having fulfilled your obligations, you may demand for the landlord to provide you with reasons and substantiate any deductions made with any receipts or invoices in relation to repairs of damages to the property.

Another practice that one should follow would be to:

  • take photographs of the condition of the property;
  • take inventory of all that is included within the rental property;
  • have a list in black and white of any defects found within the property;
  • immediately bring to the landlord’s attention should there be any defects prior to the takeover of the property and have the landlord sign against the list; and
  • prior to the end of the lease, arrange for the landlord to inspect the property.

It is crucial for you to keep all initial notes, list and photographs to refer to during the inspection with the landlord. Before returning the keys, you should also have confirmation from the landlord in writing that the property is returned in a satisfactory manner and that there are no outstanding monies due to the landlord. 

Should a landlord persist in refusing the return of the security deposit, you may engage a lawyer for an affordable fee to have a letter of demand sent to the landlord or file your claim with the Small Claims Tribunal (“SCT”) for a nominal fee.

How We Can Assist You

At Emerald Law we have lawyers who are experienced in handling  landlord and tenancy related matters in Singapore. Contact us at or email us so that we can schedule a free consultation for you in order to advise you on your matter.

Speak to a lawyer now

CONTACT US TODAY

Our specialised lawyers and their team are standing by to assist you. Our first consultation is free.

The information contained within this website contains general information about our lawyers, Law Firm and procedures and is not intended to constitute legal advice.
Any person viewing or receiving information from this Website should not act or refrain from acting, on the basis of any such information without first seeking appropriate legal advice.
Please consult a lawyer for specific review of your case and advise. 

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