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Renting in Singapore

The first thing you're going to be concerned with when coming here is finding somewhere to live. It's a decision you're going to want to get right first time, as moving house again and again is very stressful, particularly if you have a family as well. Naturally, scanning the local press and the Internet are good starting points, to give you some idea of the prices you can expect to pay.

In reality, if you're new to any country, you're unlikely to have any real knowledge of the local market, procedures and quirks in the way things are done, so you would do well to employ an agent to help you through the process. They should act completely in your best interest, explain the important and pertinent points regarding how things are done and generally protect you from making common mistakes. With an in depth knowledge of the housing market, they will help you find the right place in the right area to suit your budget, without the need for you to waste time looking at unsuitable properties. Unlike other countries, letting agents in Singapore often use a common database of what's available, meaning it is only necessary and indeed recommended that you only make use of one agent. If you find your agent is not enthusiastic about your needs, or slow to respond, dump them immediately and find another more worthy of you custom.

With much of what follows, your agent will guide you through the details but it is provided here for reference...

To rent a property in Singapore, you should produce a copy of your passport and employment papers. You will also have to pay at least one months deposit. This is known locally as a good faith deposit, meaning that once the landlord has signed the agreement and accepted the deposit, he/she is bound to rent the property to you and no one else. Your agent will also help you prepare what is called a Letter of Intent and the Tenancy Agreement.

The Letter of Intent contains a number of important considerations, such as a clause to protect you in the event your job unexpectedly terminates, you are moved to another country by your employer, or some other reason you have to leave sooner than anticipated, thus allowing you to end your tenancy early if required. However, this is only normally allowed if your agreement is for at least one year. Even so, you will normally still have to give at least two months notice and with this clause in place, your landlord will have to refund your deposit. Be aware that you may have to refund the landlord a pro-rata amount of the commission he paid in agents fees to compensate for the fact you vacate early. This should be clearly set out in the paperwork and pointed out to you by your agent.

Naturally, you will have to pay a security deposit and that is often one month rent for each year of the agreement. This is where your good faith deposit will be taken into account and will form part or all of your security deposit. Expect to have a proportionate amount deducted from your deposit if anything is found to be damaged when you move out. You should be sure to check the inventory drawn up by the landlord, which will detail all items in the property and their condition. If you fail to note any damage not already mentioned in the inventory before moving in, you risk having to pay for it yourself.

If you specify any special requirements at the time of signing the agreement, such as any repair work that needs carrying out, or a new air conditioning unit for example, the landlord is legally bound to complete that work once he has signed.

With the Letter of Intent completed and agreed upon, a tenancy agreement will be prepared. You will usually pay the costs involved, although there shouldn't normally be any. It goes without saying that you should carefully check that everything is in order before signing and this is where a good agent will look out for your interests and make sure everything is fair and square.

Invariably, you will be responsible for the upkeep of the property in terms of minor repairs etc. As long as major damage was not caused by you, the landlord should bear the costs of such damage.

One final note, Singapore has a stamp duty on tenancy agreements, which are not binding until the tenant has paid this fee and had the Inland Revenue stamp the paperwork. It is protection for all involved.

Hidden Costs and Extras when Renting

There are normally some fees you should be aware of that are over and above your agreed monthly rate. Obviously you'll be paying your own normal utility bills like electricity and telephone but there are a few notable extras...

For example, it's usual to have a clause in your rental agreement that you must have your air conditioning cleaned and serviced regularly (normally four times per year) and you are usually responsible for the cost of doing so. This is not particularly expensive however.

Read carefully through the section on 'Fair Wear and Tear'. This is where you may be in difficult territory. It's not acceptable for you to be charged a percentage of repairs for normal wear and tear on a property but where do you draw the line? Natural decay occurs regardless of anyone being present or not in a building and a landlord just has to accept that of course but if you have boisterous children that are kicking toys around and damaging things, you start to get into a grey area. You should budget accordingly and make sure you fully understand the finer details of the tenancy agreement.

Stamp duty is a statutory requirement in Singapore and nearly always paid by the tenant. The amount is calculated by a formula set by the Singapore tax department.

You will likely have to pay some of the real estate agent's commission (assuming you used an agent) which is normally a one off payment of 50 percent of the monthly rent. For higher rents, the whole fee is more often paid by the landlord.

Other extras might be pest control services.

Water bills are inexpensive.