My Security Deposit Has Been Withheld – What Should I Do?

Renting a property can oftentimes be an expensive and tedious endeavour. Depending on the property and rent, landlords may request for a security deposit of one to two months to be placed with the landlord at the beginning of the lease. There are situations, however, when tenants find themselves encountering problems at the end of their tenancies, whereby landlords have been unscrupulous and unreasonably withheld their security deposits.

What is a Security Deposit?

A security deposit is a fixed, refundable sum of money that is borne by the tenant which a landlord would typically collect from to safeguard a landlord’s financial interests from damages to a rental or leaves unexpectedly without paying rent, whereby a landlord can then set-off from the said security deposit and mitigate his losses. This is also meant to encourage tenants to return the property in the same manner that it was received.

Although it is not required by law, it is typically for landlords in Singapore to collect a security deposit that is equivalent to one or two months’ rent. Often, this is decided by the landlord and depending on the price of the property, and furniture and tenants, take, for example, a property that is rented to a group of students, that may be considered high-risk, the landlord may ask to secure a higher amount of security deposit.

This security deposit is then refunded to the tenants when the rental period expires. Should any deductions made by the landlord due to damages to the rental property during the tenancy period or unpaid rent, the landlord can set-off the monies used to rectify the damages or rent and the balance of the security deposit, if any, is returned to the tenant.

Circumstances Whereby It Is Legal For Landlord To Withhold Security Deposit

The landlord is only legally allowed to deduct the costs of the following:

Any outstanding rent that is not paid by the tenant at the end of the term;

Any outstanding utility bills;

Restoration costs, such as cleaning bills, to restore the premises to a clean, and tenantable condition; and/or

To replace fixtures and/or furnishing and/or to repair the damage that does not fall under ‘fair wear and tears’.

Should there be any balance security deposit after the deduction of any of the above, the landlord is to return the excess to the tenant. However, should the cost of repairing the damages to the property caused by the tenant exceed the security deposit, the landlord may commence a suit against the tenant to claim for outstanding costs to remedy the damage.

What about Fair ‘Wear and Tear’?

Ordinary ‘wear and tear’ includes small scuff marks on walls, or the reasonable wearing down of furniture, such as a blown light-bulb or scuff marks on the floor due to normal usage or deterioration from everyday use. Generally, these would not constitute as damages to the property to amount to a deduction of the security deposit. It is for the landlord to bear the cost of routine refurbishments, such as the painting of the walls.

Unfortunately, the definition of fair ‘wear and tear’ can be vague and unscrupulous landlords may deem it as actual property damage.

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How Should I Protect My Security Deposit?

It is advisable for tenants to document and keep detailed notes, photographs, and even videos of the property before taking over the premises. The potential landlord ought to be alerted to any pre-existing damages to the property. It is also important for the potential tenant to have the pre-existing conditions of the property, fixtures and fittings in writing and signed against by the landlord so that disputes as to the condition of the property can be minimised.

Another measure that is advisable is to have a joint inspection with the landlord at least two weeks before moving out of the premises. This ensures ample time in the event that there is any property damage, and one can repair the same before the handover. If left to the landlord, one may find the costs of the repair works expensive, given that the landlord has no qualms about engaging expensive rectification services at the expense of the security deposit.

What Do I Do When Security Deposit Is Not Returned?

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 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.

However, if the landlord refuses to provide the above, you should engage a lawyer to have a letter of demand sent to the landlord, whereby your demands for the security deposit or actions in relation to the same can be set out. Generally, this is an affordable and efficient method to compel a landlord to return the monies.

Should a landlord persist in refusing the return of the security deposit or you are unable to afford to engage a lawyer, you may file your claim with the Small Claims Tribunal (“SCT”) if your claim is under $20,000, for a nominal fee. If the tribunal makes a finding that your security deposit has been wrongfully withheld, an order shall be made on the landlord to return the said deposit to you. One should note that your physical presence is required in Singapore, should you wish to file a claim with SCT. For any claim above $20,000, one may commence a civil suit.

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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.
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Joint Managing Partner

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Enquiry from Emerald Law


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Enquiry from Emerald Law


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