Renting a property is advantageous as it provides an additional source of passive income. However, it can be problematic when you rent it to an irresponsible tenant who arrears on their rental payment or maintains poor cleanliness. Removing such tenants can be a challenging and stressful encounter for landlords. It is therefore important for landlords to abide the proper legal procedures to prevent any potential legal issues; to take note on any possible practical actions to evict a bad tenant without stepping on any illegality; and to exercise caution in future rental experience.
It is without doubt that a landlord would like to remove tenants from their property who have been behind on their rent for several months. The first course of action in removing a bad tenant is to demand so in writing. A landlord can do so via a letter, email, or WhatsApp and specify a reasonable time for the tenant to leave the premise. Despite that, more than often a tenant would refuse to leave the premises in such situation. It might be morally right to evict the tenant by force, but it is certainly not right from the legal perspective. According to Section 7(2) Specific Relief Act 1950, the landlord shall not enforce his right to recover the property against the occupier without court proceedings.
Court proceedings are lengthy and costly, which may not be the most efficient way. A landlord should then review the tenancy agreement to check if there is condition that allows the cut of water or electricity supply if the tenant arrears in rent. If such condition has been implemented into the agreement, the landlord can forcefully evict the tenant by cutting the water supply – as supported by Premier Model (M) v. Philepromenade Sdn Bhd  1 LNS 173. Water supply however can be easily reconnected by using a pipe or rubber hose between the two ends of the missing meter. Although provided in the agreement, it may be impractical to cut electricity supply as the tenant may prevent utility companies from entering the property to disconnect the electricity supply. Any other attempt to enter the property without the tenant’s consent can easily lead to trespass.
A distress action could possibly be the most practical way for a landlord who no longer intends to maintain a good landlord-tenant relationship. It involves seizing the tenant’s goods and belongings and selling them to recover unpaid rent. Under Section 51(a) Distress Act 1951, a landlord can apply for a court order or warrant of distress to exercise a distress action. This can be carried out even without terminating the tenancy agreement.
An alternative route is to opt for the conventional yet harsh way by applying for an eviction order. The landlord must first serve an eviction notice to the tenant with a specified period for the tenant to vacate the property. If the tenant fails to leave, the landlord can then seek a court order to evict the tenant. The order typically includes the recovery and possession of the property as well as any other belongings of the landlord on the property. It may also include the outstanding rental payments or other costs such as late payment fees or damages. The tenant will then be required to leave within a specified period of time.
In the event that a tenant refuses to leave and prohibits entry to the property (i.e. locking the doors) despite the eviction order, the landlord can enforce the eviction order by applying for a writ of possession at the court. The writ can be executed with the assistance of the police officer where he will accompany the landlord to the property to carry out the eviction. Upon entering the property, it is important to take photos of the property to avoid any false claims by the tenant in the future. The landlord should also place a notice informing the tenant to contact the landlord if they intend to collection their belongings.
In the event that a tenant refuses to leave and prohibits entry to the property (i.e. locking the doors) despite the eviction order, the landlord should lodge a police report and enter the property by force in the presence of a police officer and an independent witness. Upon entering the property, it is important to take photos of the property to avoid any false claims by the tenant in the future. The landlord should also place the police report and a notice informing the tenant to contact the landlord if they intend to collection their belongings at the entrance of the property.
Even though the tenant has left the property voluntarily, it is possible that the property may be left in a unsatisfactory condition. Landlords often face irresponsible tenants who leave the property in a state of disarray with accumulated rubbish and broken tiles or pipes. So, what can a landlord do? More than obvious, the landlord can forfeit the deposit for the cost of rectifying the damage done to the property. Alternatively, a landlord can file a claim at the court for damages which is likely to be granted. However, it is impractical and unreasonable to do so as it is very lengthy and may incur additional costs. It very unfortunate that there is no legislation in place that protects landlords but there has been a discussion of a bill for the aforementioned.
With the lack of an Act to protect landlords, it is vital for landlords to take precautions in rental experiences. Clear rules and policies addressing the following should be put in place:
- 1. Action toward overdue rental payment: Landlord will take legal action if tenant default in rental payment.
- 2. Utility payment and collection: Landlord to highlight the timeline in which bills will be generated and set a due date for such bills.
- 3. Tenant’s obligation: Paying the rent and bills, and to maintain the habitability of the property i.e. to ensure it is free from any damage, danger and unhygienic conditions.
- 4. Damage or destruction: The result of actions that landlord is entitled to take.
It is essential to keep in mind that the landlord must not impose unreasonable conditions in the contract, such as requiring the tenant to wipe the table three times after eating or to mop the floor every day. Any terms of the similar effect will be deemed unfair under Section 24A(c) Consumer Protection Act 1999.
A landlord could also run background checks before renting his property by requiring tenants to fill in application form and conducting employment or credit checks on the tenant. Apart from pre-renting precautions, landlords could also conduct regular inspection on the property provided that the consent of the tenant to enter the property has been obtained.
Landlords are encouraged to take necessary actions to protect their properties and financial interests. By adopting a clear and well-communicated contract and exercising proper planning and caution, landlord can ultimately avoid bad tenants and sustain long-term relationship with responsible tenants.
This article is intended to be informative and not intended to be nor should be relied upon as a substitute for legal or any other professional advice.
About the author
Mandi Soh Hui Shee
Real Estate, Banking & Finance
Halim Hong & Quek