Tenancy Dispute – What if Landlord won’t return rental security deposit

One of the major cause of tenancy dispute between the landlord and the tenant is often over the security deposit and maintenance responsibilities and speed of repairs and complaints.

By: Ms Nicolette Tan

  1. At the end of a tenancy, the tenant would desire a full refund of his or her deposit, but the landlord may assert a competing interest to utilise part or the whole of the deposit against the tenant’s obligations under the tenancy agreement.

tenancy dispute
Image 1: by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Ascertaining your contractual rights and obligations to avoid tenancy dispute

Most  tenancy agreements impose the following obligations on tenants: –

  • an obligation to reinstate the property to the condition the property was received in at the beginning of the tenancy, save for fair wear and tear, and alterations or additions to the property with the landlord’s consent;
  • an obligation to undertake minor repairs throughout the period of the tenancy (e.g. replacing electric light bulbs, ensure that air-conditioning units are regularly serviced, maintaining the garden); and
  • an obligation to pay all rates and taxies and other stipulated charges (such as for utilities, gas, electricity, water, and/or internet access and cable television services) incurred throughout the tenancy.

In certain cases, where a tenant has leased property for specific purposes, a landlord may specifically require the tenant to remedy and/or indemnify the landlord against certain types of damage caused by the tenant’s undertakings to the premises.

Tenancy agreements would also typically impose obligations on landlords, such as an obligation to undertake certain repairs (e.g. repairs over a certain value, repairs in respect of electrical wiring and plumbing), so tenants should be aware that landlords may not require them to remedy or reinstate the premises in respect of such claims.

Preserving your right to have your Tenancy deposit returned

A tenant should ensure that all his or her obligations under the tenancy agreement have been fulfilled before the tenancy period draws to an end.  The tenant should also consider if adequate time at the end of the tenancy has been set aside to address any applicable remedial or reinstatement works required to be undertaken. (So the trial handover should ideally take place much earlier, before moving out)

A tenant should also consider conducting a joint inspection of the premises with the landlord and/or his or her agents at the end of the tenancy.  A joint inspection should record the condition of the premises at the time of the handover by the tenant.  If parties do not agree to the condition at the time of the handover, the details and discussions yielded during the joint inspection will put the tenant on notice of what the landlord may claim for against the deposit.

Where Tenancy disputes may arise with the landlord in respect of the deposit

In the case that the landlord takes the position that the deposit is required for payment of remedial or reinstatement works are needed, the tenant may find that the deposit is withheld in part or full, or even face a demand for the difference from the landlord.

A tenant may consider taking the following action(s):-

  • request a detailed and itemised list of remedial or reinstatement works, and where applicable the professional quotation for such works;
  • request for the right to undertake the remedial or reinstatement works itemised by the landlord; and/or
  • reserve the right to obtain advice from a professional surveyor who will require an inspection of the premises based on the landlord’s list, and provide a report on (i) the reasonableness of the list, (ii) query any claim(s) in respect of works which relate to fair wear and tear, or which go beyond the scope of his or her obligations under the tenancy agreement, and (iii) the rectification method and corresponding costs for works assessed to be reasonable.

If it is the case that landlord’s request for remedial or reinstatement works are justified, and the tenancy period has terminated, the landlord may be entitled to claim against the tenant for lost rent to account for the time required to undertake such works.  As such, it would be advisable to resolve all issues relating to reinstatement works prior to the termination of the tenancy period to avoid potential tenancy dispute.

What should a tenant do if a Tenancy dispute arises with the Landlord?

In a tenancy dispute where the landlord cannot come to an agreement on the deposit, the tenant should seek legal advice, which will enable the tenant to prosecute or negotiate a settlement of your claim efficiency.  A legal adviser would also be able to assist in obtaining a report from a professional surveyor.

If you are a landlord, you can read the landlord guide to tenancy deposit dispute

Issues posed by the Circuit Breaker period and the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act 2020 and related regulations

Due to the delays and disruptions to services during this period, tenants may face several issues, including being prevented from meeting their end-of-tenancy obligations, and as a result be in breach of the tenancy agreement. 

Amongst other things, landlords may demand the forfeiture of the deposit, which would feel manifestly unfair to tenants who are forced into being in breach due to the circumstances.

Tenants should seek legal advice in respect of the newly introduced laws and regulations to ascertain their rights and the protections afforded by the law.  Tenants may also be advised more specifically on other legal solutions to address the difficulty of their situation.

Need some advice? Contact our lawyer Ms Nicolette Tan at 63275794 of ASCENTSIA LAW CORPORATION located conveniently at 10 Anson Road #03-22 International Plaza Singapore 079903 (Tg Pagar MRT) or contact us HERE


Paul Ho, founder and CEO of iCompareLoan.com says, “In Singapore where the interest cost is low, around 1+% (as at 2020) and the yield is around 2+%, this means that if the tenant is prepared for a long term repayment commitment and a “Forced Savings” in the form of principle repayment, the overall cost may be lower. The only impediments are the huge down payments of 25% of the property price or valuation (whichever is lower) and for non Singaporeans, the Additional buyer stamp duties. With your own house, you can do what you like with renovations rather than asking for the landlord’s permission even to hammer a nail into the wall for a portrait.”

The contents herein do not constitute legal or other professional advice
or an opinion of any kind and should not be relied upon as such.
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Written by Why Kong LEONG

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