Legal Action You Can Take Against A Landlord Who Unfairly Withholds Your Security Deposit. Includes Templates You Can Use To Send A Claim Against Your Landlord.
- What Is A Security Deposit
- Valid Reasons For A Landlord to Withhold Security Deposit
- Illegal Reasons For A Landlord To Withhold Security Deposit
- Recourse Tenants Can Take Against A Landlord
- How To File A Small Claims Application Against A Landlord
What Is A Security Deposit
It is typical in most tenancy agreements for the tenant to put up a security deposit of around 1-2 months’ rent prior to moving into the rental house. The landlord is entitled to use this security deposit in accordance with its rights under the tenancy agreement.
In numerous cases, landlords will seek to withhold the security deposit to offset any damages the landlord alleges was caused to the property during the tenant’s stay.
However, what if you, as the tenant, does not agree with the landlord’s claims? Perhaps you think that the “damage” is caused by regular wear and tear.
While not an uncommon situation, you can easily find yourself in a minefield navigating such a dispute with your landlord. To help you out, here are some actions you can take against your landlord to reclaim your security deposit
Valid Reasons For Withholding Of Security Deposit
This highly depends on the terms structured under your tenancy agreement. In most cases, the landlord will rely on the following reasons for withholding your rental deposit.
- Unpaid rent or utility bills at end of the rental term
- If unit was left is a very dirty condition and requires a professional cleaning service to return it to tenantable condition. Or that there is specific furniture (such as the sofa or the curtains that need to be professionally cleaned)
- Repair damages caused by improper use of property (in excess ‘fair wear and tear’)
It’s the second and third points that often result in dispute between the landlord and tenant.
Damage Caused by Standard Wear and Tear
A common example is when a tenant has a pet or young child. The landlord may assert that the rugs or curtains have been “frayed” or “damaged” which was caused by the tenant. However, the tenant may dispute this and assert that this is simply standard wear and tear.
Recourse Tenants Can Take Against A Landlord
If your landlord is withholding your security deposit for reasons that you do not agree with, you need not simply accept the landlord’s assertions and, instead, seek to exercise your legal rights against your landlord.
Here’s a step by step process of what you should do
STEP 1: Place your objection in writing
This is the first thing you should do. When the landlord informs you that he/she intends to offset your security deposit, and you disagree, immediately record your objection in writing and request that your landlord substantiate his/her reasons for doing so.
This can be done by email/text/WhatsApp or whatever is the most convenient.
It can be as simple as follows:
“Dear Mr Landlord, you have stated that you intend to offset $X’XXX from my security deposit. I disagree that you are entitled to do so. Kindly inform me in writing within two days your basis for seeking to do so. My rights are reserved.”
Note: After your landlord responds, chances are, you will disagree with his/her reasons for offsetting the security deposit. While it is important to explain why you disagree with his reasons, or to see if an agreement can be reached, it is just as important that you don’t end up in a back and forth argument over text or WhatsApp. This will likely only serve to make both parties angrier reducing the chances of resolving the issue amicably. If need be, agree to disagree and move on to the next step.
STEP 2: Send a Letter of Demand
If your landlord refuses to substantiate his/her basis for offsetting the security deposit, issue a letter of demand. Often, landlords are taking a chance that tenants are leaving the country or simply do not know how to exercise their legal rights. A letter of demand will serve to set the record straight and send a message that you intend to fully pursue legal action. Facing a well-informed tenant willing to take legal action, a landlord is more likely to resolve the dispute amicably rather than risk facing legal action.
You don’t need to engage a lawyer to prepare a letter of demand. Simply download our template “HERE” and edit it for your own use.
STEP 3: File a claim with the Small Claims Tribunal
If the dispute still isn’t resolved, your next step is to file a claim against the landlord.
Some consumers may choose to go to a lawyer instead. In our view, it’s simply not worth it. Most disputes over security deposits do not involve large sums of money. Most lawyers’ fees start somewhere in the region of $300 – $500 per hour.
Save this money and utilize the small claims tribunal instead (may be as low as under 20 SGD to file a claim). Any rulings made by the tribunal are legally binding and are enforceable court judgments.
How To File A Claim With The Small Claims Tribunal
- Proceed to the SCT Website and login. The cost to file a claim ranges from 10 SGD – 20 SGD
- Prepare your tenancy agreements and any proof that your landlord has not returned your deposit (this can be a WhatsApp message screenshot)
- Prepare your statement. Always substantiate your claims with pictures (Eg. Of damaged curtains etc). If you need help preparing a statement, download our free template here.
- Once all the documents are submitted, the tribunal will set aside a date for the hearing. Take note, the Small Claims Tribunal has a strict no lawyers rule.
If you understand your rights, the process for exercising your legal rights to seek the return of your security deposit can be a relatively painless and expeditious process. While there is never any guarantee that by exercising your legal rights, you will be able to successfully claim the return of your security deposit, Singapore has a fantastic legal system that’s fair, transparent and efficient.
You don’t need to pony up for lawyer fees to navigate the system. Trust the system and you’ll be just fine 🙂