We talked to Sumitro Iskandar, a licensed real estate professional in Singapore. Originally from Medan, Sumitro studied Real Estate in the National University of Singapore (NUS) — graduating in 2011 — and is now Senior Marketing Director at Vestor Realty.

How does eviction work in Singapore?

It really depends on your room rental agreement, but generally, you get evicted when you breach your contract. Maybe you don’t pay rent on time, you cook although it’s not allowed, or you don’t have a valid pass to reside in Singapore. If you don’t breach any of the agreements, then legally you can’t be evicted. That said, in most room rental cases, the landlord already has the upper hand because they own the house and hold the Security Deposit.

What’s more important is the stamp duty. Without the stamp duty, your contract is invalid, which means you have very little legal protection. Even then, many tenants don’t pay the stamp duty, especially when no real estate agents are present.

Could she have gotten her deposit back? What would be the course of action?

There’s no use in engaging the police because they cover criminal acts, like theft or burglary. For civil cases like this, the best way is perhaps the Small Claims Tribunal. The Tribunal handles claims below $10,000, enough for room rental deposits that tend to be smaller in amount ($600-$2,000 on average).

It’s not expensive to file a claim — the lodgment fee starts from $10 if you’re the tenant — and after that, you will attend mediation sessions with your landlord to resolve the issue. Usually there are multiple sessions, which can interfere with your school schedule. However, sometimes it’s not just about the money: it’s about peace of mind.

How can all of us prevent something like this from happening?

Ideally, you should enlist the services of a licensed real estate professional. We use standard formula contracts, make sure all the proper procedures are followed (including the stamp duty). Even when the tenant and landlord are having problems, the agent can also help to mediate.

Provided the terms in the contract are acceptable, you can also pay the stamp duty yourself (without an agent). At the very least, it would give you legal protection should anything go wrong.

Ultimately, always look out for yourself. Always make sure you have proper documents on hand. For example, pay your rent via bank transfer/cheque instead of cash; this way, you can always print your bank statement as proof for paying rent. As this story has shown, people can seem trustworthy until they’re not. Don’t trust them so much that you become careless. When good friends can quarrel and end their friendship, imagine what can happen between a landlord and tenant.

Interview by Putra Muskita.