The housing market in Singapore has not been the friendliest lately—look at this Sengkang HDB flat that sold for nearly a million recently. Rental rates have been surging as crazy as a Grab ride during peak hours.
A woman, however, met even a worse misfortune in her house hunt: she was ghosted after she paid to rent an HDB flat, and found out later that the owner had rented it to other people instead.
Talk about a housing nightmare.
After signing a contract to rent out a 4-room-HDB flat, the woman, 36-year-old Jin Yan, paid S$10,000 in rent. On the day she was due to move in, however, the owner was nowhere to be found.
The owner used excuses like being overseas or in the hospital to defer Jin Yan’s move-in date, but secretly rented the house to other people and refused to return the $10,000 given, angering Jin Yan into making a police report.
She Paid $10,000 For The Flat
Jin Yan, a retail worker, told Lianhe Zaobao about her painful experience.
In December 2022, Jin Yan assisted her mother, boyfriend, and friend in searching for a flat through an agency. They found a four-room flat located at Woodlands Street 82, Block 845. The owner of the flat agreed at that time to rent it out to them for $3,300 a month for a period of two years.
According to Jin Yan, the owner had asked her repeatedly to pay, even before the contract was signed. Jin Yan consecutively gave her money that covered rent for a month and a half, till the contract was signed on 6 January 2023, where she again paid the same sum.
She allegedly gave the owner two months’ worth of deposit and one month’s worth of rent, for a total of $9,900, with an additional $316 in stamp duty.
Her official move-in date was 15 February, but the owner delayed it on that day by saying that she was overseas, and told her the next day that she was hospitalised for an illness.
“I didn’t think too much about it,” Jin Yan said. She compromised again and agreed to receive the keys only on 28 February.
She found out that the woman had rented out the unit to other people only when she attempted to pay the utility bills—the new renters had moved in on 10 February without even signing a contract.
Afterwards, Jin Yan confronted the owner, who agreed to completely refund her the sum of money on 1 March, but ghosted her when the date approached. Angered, she reported the incident to the police.
“We already signed the contract; how could she rent it to someone else? Because of this, we had to stay at a friend’s house urgently,” Jin Yan said.
Even though she decided against renting the property after finding others living there, the owner refused to return all the money she paid. With the agency’s help, she tried to locate the owner at her workplace but came up empty.
The owner messaged her later that she would refund the money on 10 March, and even added that if Jin Yan was unsatisfied, she could contact the police. In the end, however, she ghosted Jin Yan again, still refusing to return the money.
When reporters visited the unit, they encountered two tenants originally from the Philippines, who apparently did not know about the situation.
Allegedly, this wasn’t the first time the owner had triggered disputes about a rental; but when reporters reached out to the owner, she did not reply.
The police are aware of the incident and currently investigating it.
For similar rental disputes, lawyer Terence Seah says that because of a contract’s legal power, victims can fight their cases in court to make sure owners fulfil their end of a contract.
In the case where the unit is rented to someone else, and this results in the renter having to spend extra money to find a different place, the renter is allowed to ask for compensation for these damages.
Regarding how to protect yourself as a renter, lawyers from Luo Ling Ling LLC recommend that renters and agencies add additional clauses in the contract that protect their interests For example, a clause could be added in which an owner needs to provide compensation to the renter if they change their minds at the last minute.
They remind the public that when the contract is signed, only a part of the deposit and rent must be paid—the rest should be paid instead upon moving in, to prevent any losses like in Jin Yan’s case.