By: Andrew Ezekiel

I refer to the article “House-hunting in Singapore: ‘Sorry, your wife is Indian, the landlord won’t rent to you’,” published in The Independent Singapore. I am a property agent and I disagree with the author of the article.

Basic Housekeeping Required When Handing Rental Flat Over
The reason why certain Singaporean landlords don’t rent their flats to certain foreigners is not racial disharmony or racial discrimination against foreigners. Landlords can and should do basic housekeeping inventory when handing and taking over rental flats. This would be useful especially at the end of the tenancy period.

Flat Renters from China, India and Philippines
I have acted as an agent for foreign workers and expats, as well as for Singaporean landlords renting out their flats. But I no longer act on the behalf of workers from India and China.

The reason I choose not to represent foreigners from China is because even if they do not bargain with the rental price, most do not know how to keep the rental flats clean.

And as for foreigners from India, most are stingy and would always want to know how low the landlord would go with the price of rentals. Some landlords relent, but most don’t.

Filipinos on the other hand are more decent and easy to deal with. Most are respectful and more importantly when compared with renters of other nationalities, they maintain a clean home for landlords.

Problems with rental and utilities payment
I would also advise landlords to change the utilities bill into the name of the renters as soon as the agreement is signed between them. That way, renters would be responsible for the utilities and landlords will not be burdened with any unpaid utilities bill once the renters vacate the unit.

As for non-payment of rentals, most standard contracts specify that landlords have a right to demand renters to vacate immediately if no payment is received within 7 days from the due date of rental payment. Landlords can also forfeit the renters deposit if that happens.

If the landlords feel that there have been damages to to his fixtures and furnitures when tenants are moving out, they can deduct costs for such damages from the deposit as well. This is also why it is important for landlords to keep an inventory of the flat that is rented out.

Tenants are obliged to return the flat to the landlords in the same condition it was in when they rented it. If it is not, landlords can deduct from the tenants’ deposits to cover the costs of cleaning and maintenance services.

Deposits May Not Be Enough to Cover Damages
Most standard agreements specify that 1 month deposit should be placed for 1 year tenancy agreement, and 2 months deposit for a 2 year agreement. This is why most landlords would not want to rent their units to foreigners from China.

This is not a matter of racism or xenophobia. I have personally seen HDB as well as condo units destroyed even under a short one-year tenancy period. Bad smell (even when you stand outside the door), sinks broken, furnitures destroyed, bed bugs, and unswept floors, the list goes on.

In one case I am aware of, the neighbours called the Police on a tenant from China barely a few months after he moved into the flat because they cannot stand the smell emanating from the flat. They thought someone had died in the flat. The neighbours previously have had cordial relationship with the landlords. As it turned out, the tenants from China worked for a seafood restaurant and brought back sacks of prawns to peel in their flat. What’s worse is, they left the shells to rot in the unit for a few months.

Who would rent their flat to tenants who can’t take basic care of their homes?

Tenants from China are the worst
Most agents would agree that there is a difference between tenants from India and those from China. Both North and South Indians would cook at least two meals a day, which would mean that the whole house may smell of curry or dhal, but such smell is definitely much better than the smell of dead animals.

I have seen units occupied by tenants from China when I bring prospective new tenants for viewing appointments, eating with shoes on the dining table. Of course these are extreme cases, but how would landlords who can’t even bear wear-and-tear bear such blatant disregard for their flats, especially when deposits cannot cover the damages?

Even Singaporean Chinese landlords have told me that they don’t mind tenants from India if it is a small family, but not tenants from China.

Agents Professionalism
This is where agents play an important role. They should know how and what to advise their clients on – especially if they are representing flat owners. Making a quick commission should not be our only goal.

Agents need to help landlords avoid unnecessary headaches and disputes with their prospective tenants, and to do that, we have to act professionally and provide quality service.