After forking out a hefty lumpsum of $48,000 to rent part of a luxury apartment for two years, a Singapore couple found themselves at the mercy of their real estate agent.
In May this year, a 27-year-old woman and her boyfriend decided to rent a bedroom in one of the units at The Sail @ Marina Bay.
The unit that the couple set their eyes on has two bedrooms — one of which would be left vacant for the landlord to stay in when he is in Singapore, they claimed the agent told them in a report by Lianhe Wanbao.
The agent also said the rent costs around $3,000 a month but could be reduced to $2,000 if they pay two years' worth of rental in advance.
Thinking that they would be able to have the apartment to themselves for the most part, the couple paid $48,000 and moved into the unit in July.
However, their hopes of having a private space to themselves were dashed when after a few months, the real estate agent started bringing potential tenants to view the apartment.
"Sometimes he brought them in without letting us know in advance. It's violating our privacy," the woman told the Chinese evening daily.
Responding to Wanbao's queries, Lim Yong Hock, key executive officer of Propnex Realty, said that it is not common practice for landlords to collect two years' worth of rent in advance. He also doesn't recommend tenants to do this.
"If the tenant moves out, the landlord may not refund the rental amount. If the landlord goes bankrupt and the property is repossessed, it's very difficult for the tenant to recover the rent without going through legal channels," Lim said.
He added that in such cases, the landlord usually has a motive for collecting rent in advance and for renting it out cheaply, and urged tenants to take extra precaution.
Agent claims couple only rented 'half of the kitchen'
Even the usage of the kitchen has become a point of contention between the couple and the agent.
The woman claimed she was told by the agent that they would have full use of the kitchen upon moving in. But she was later berated for attempting to clear items that were left in the kitchen cabinets.
The agent subsequently told her they had only rented "half of the kitchen", and therefore they could only clear out half of the items in the kitchen.
The couple also claimed that recently, the agent told them to remove the food and utensils in the kitchen before he brings potential tenants to the apartment, so that the area would look clean and neat.
"He threatened to throw away our things if we didn't follow his instructions. We have no choice but to keep them in the bedroom, and only bring them out when we need to," the woman said.
But why is the agent so picky about the items in the kitchen?
It turns out he is also the landlord — something the couple claimed they found out only after signing the lease.
The woman said she suspected something was amiss when the agent told her that she could transfer the rental payment directly to him, as the landlord was apparently his relative.
"Upon further questioning, he confessed that he is actually the landlord. He also showed us the title deed of the apartment to prove his claim," she said.
In accordance with guidelines from the the Council of Estate Agencies (CEA), a statutory board that regulates the real estate industry, real estate agents are required to inform prospective tenants upfront about conflicts of interest.
The woman told Wanbao that she has lodged a complaint with CEA.
In response to these allegations, the agent, who declined to be named, said that he had made it clear before the lease was signed.
"The apartment costs more than $2 million and the monthly mortgage payment is almost $6,000. I'm renting it to them at a loss, so I need to find another tenant. I never said that the other bedroom would not be rented out," he told reporters.
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