How My 4-Room Flat Housed 21 Tenants Without My Knowledge & What I Learned From The Experience

7 September 2022 | BY

After a decade of being landlords, the author and his family found themselves in rental hell with “extra” occupants.

How My 4-Room Flat Housed 21 Tenants Without My Knowledge & What I Learned From The Experience

Renting out a home isn’t always the easiest of things to do, especially if you’re particular about maintaining the condition of your apartment like my family is. Having been landlords for more than a decade, we’ve been fortunate enough to have tenants who were able to handle the apartment with care while maintaining their own way of life. 

But as luck or lack thereof would have it, we finally found ourselves in rental hell with more than just a few “extra” occupants and the authorities raiding our rental unit.

Meeting the tenants

When our property agent of 8 years proposed a group of 6 foreign workers as potential tenants, we didn’t think much about it. After all, she’d always given us good recommendations, and our relationship had been smooth all these years.

The pandemic also made it difficult for us to find tenants who were willing to fork out our stipulated rental fees and adhere to our “home rules”. This made us antsy enough to jump at the offer. 

Since the workers were agreeable to our terms and conditions and a thorough background check on them came back clean, we signed a 2year lease. This included a 1-month deposit of $2,100 which would be forfeited if they violated the rules of the agreement.

With that, we handed over the keys to my childhood 4room flat and left, happy that we were able to find decent tenants. At least that’s what we thought at the time. 

Calls from Town Council about “overpopulation”

After about 3 uneventful months, we received a call from the Town Council regarding suspicions that our unit was being used to house more people than the regulations allowed. This news came as a rude shock as we didn’t have any reason to believe so.

With much concern looming over our heads, we contacted our property agent and arranged an appointment with the tenants to verify the rumours for ourselves. The lease had stipulated a 2-day notice period for visitations to the unit.

Upon arrival, nothing seemed amiss. We conducted our “investigations” but didn’t reveal anything incriminating to allude to whatever the Town Council suspected being true.

As my property agent went about photographing the place to submit to the Town Council, we went over to speak to our long-time neighbour and friend. She and her husband concluded that they didn’t see anything out of the ordinary and that our tenants were polite albeit quiet individuals who kept to themselves. 

With all evidence pointing to the contrary, we left the unit slightly puzzled but relieved that the allegations were unfounded. Once our agent submitted the necessary photographic evidence, we called the Town Council and the matter was resolved. Or so we thought. 

Finding 21 people occupying the flat

Less than 2 weeks after the visit, we were again greeted with another phone call by the Town Council and this time, the situation was much more dire. 

They said that, together with Ministry of Manpower (MOM) agents, they had raided the unit and found 21 people living inside the house instead of just 6 people. 

How My 4-Room Flat Housed 21 Tenants Without My Knowledge & What I Learned From This
The room after the partition was removed
Image credit: Brendan Yee

The agents had found that the tenants used moveable partitions to segregate the room and added additional mattresses so more people could sleep in a single room. 

Tenant horror story
Image for illustrative purposes only.
Image credit: Unsplash

Conditions in the unit were almost considered squalor and most of the furniture was filthy, something that they managed to hide during the first round of checks. 

This literally shocked us all. We had never encountered something like this and until today, we couldn’t wrap our heads around how that many people could fit into the house let alone the rooms. 

Once we informed our property agent, we drove straight down to assess the situation firsthand. But by the time we got there, the partitions were removed and most of the people had left the house. 

How My 4-Room Flat Housed 21 Tenants Without My Knowledge & What I Learned From The Experience
Image credit: Brendan Yee

The first thing we realised is that they had kept all their shoes inside the unit to avoid attracting the attention of our neighbours. They also hung their laundry indoors to prevent anyone from noticing the vast amounts of damp clothes. 

Most of the windows were barely open and the curtains were drawn to reduce visibility. They had also stuck a number of plastic hooks on the walls so they could hang their belongings. The adhesives used however weren’t removable so taking the hooks down caused paint to be ripped from the walls, leaving the wall in sorry state with multiple white patches

How My 4-Room Flat Housed 21 Tenants Without My Knowledge & What I Learned From The Experience
This is some next
level stealth tactic.
Image credit: Brendan Yee

But perhaps the most impressive “housing hack” they did to “soundproof” their entry was to stick foam pieces around the frame of the door and gate. This minimised the sound signature of the closing which creaked a fair bit when opened and would have definitely alerted the neighbours of frequent activity in and out of the house. 

They also stuck the same foam pieces to the handles of both the gate and the door to make sure it didn’t create a sound if slammed or opened roughly.  We weren’t wasn’t sure if we were impressed or horrified by their stealthy ways. But the silver lining through all of this was that at the very least, these tenants weren’t engaging in any illegal activities that would’ve involved the police. 

Once the Town Council and MOM representatives left, our property agent served them a 48hour eviction notice and forfeited their deposit.

Leaving without a trace

After the entire ordeal with the Town Council and MOM, we revisited the flat 2 days later once the tenants had left, and to our surprise, they had managed to clear the flat of their mountain of belongings. Leaving almost no trace that there were 21 people living in the place. 

Furniture like the sofa and existing mattresses had to be disposed of and replaced. The walls needed a complete repaint and we had to move a lot of the bed frames which the former tenants shifted to make way for more people. 

Being blamed for the situation

And if that wasn’t bad enough, we received a call from the Town Council 2 days after the raid, asking to see us in person. When we went down for the meeting, we were horrified to find that we were being faulted for the extra tenants, with the Town Council citing negligence in checks.

The proposed consequence of our supposed actions: being banned from renting forever.

Not wanting to be taken for a ride, we countered with hard evidence of our background checks to prove that we did our due diligence in vetting potential tenants before signing the lease. Our property agent even went as far as to extract receipts of past email threads that related to the first investigation we did when we caught wind of the suspicions. 

We also pointed out the clause in the lease stating that tenants retained the right to a 2day notice before dropping in to visit the property. This was proof that we didn’t believe in random unannounced checks and that we respected the privacy of our tenants in any situation. 

After a lengthy back-and-forth discussion, the Town Council slapped us with a 3month rental ban, and we settled with that. Thankful we could still continue renting out our flat. We also decided to use that downtime to refurbish the house to make it liveable once more

Tips for landlords looking to rent their homes

While I’m sure that my family isn’t alone when it comes to tenant horror stories, there’s always a lesson or two to be learned when something like this happens. 

If you’re thinking of renting out one of your vacant properties, here are some tips that might help you avoid the same fate:

1. Get a property agent

Tips on renting out your house
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

I know that some of us rent our apartments out independently to save on the 10% agent fees.  But the truth is, a good property agent goes a long way, especially if you’re in a bit of a pickle. 

Apart from being the point of liaison between you, the tenant, and other government entities involved; your agent also handles all the intensive paperwork that comes with tenancy. A good

She made sure that everything was wrapped up nicely and acted like a bridge between the Town Council and us so there was no miscommunication on either side. She even had lobangs for us when we were renovating and looking to restore the house to its former condition. 

So take it from me, if you’re looking to rent, it really helps to have a good property agent who is competent and capable when working with you to make the best out of any situation. 

2. Do background checks and keep all the receipts

This point is equally crucial and is the second half of the reason as to why we only got slapped with a 3month ban instead of a lifelong one. And that was because we had proof that we’d done our due diligence in terms of checks on our tenants. 

We made sure that our agent check everything like the legitimacy of their work permits and take down their personal particulars. This is paramount because flagging such issues early means avoiding any complicated legal issues down the road. 

We also kept tabs and filed important documents which allowed us to bring them up in the event that we needed them for any official reasons. And while your property agent may be the one handling the paperwork, it never hurts to keep extra copies of it for your own records, just in case you need to reference it on the spot.

3. Know your demographic

There are many different groups of people in the housing market and knowing who to rent based on your requirements can help you set acceptable boundaries for yourself and your tenant. 

If you’re someone who has looser rules and lesser expectations, you would most likely have a larger pool of potential tenants to choose from. But if you have more expectations like keeping the unit in pristine condition or avoiding conceivably rowdy tenants, there are certain key factors that you may wish to consider. 

Tips for renting out your homeImage credit: TheSmartLocal

Families would most likely maintain the condition of the house a lot better and this is especially true if they have children. Keeping the space clean, neat and tidy is vital for a family with children – naturally making them great candidates for tenants.           

They also tend to sign longer leases as the constant moving can prove disruptive for their kids. This is also an advantage for landlords who aren’t required to spend time and resources to find a new suitable tenant within a short period of time. 

Renting in Singapore – tenant horror stories

There’s no escaping the fact that renting out a house can be like reaching into a bag of mixed nuts, you really don’t know how things are going to turn out until they happen. Sadly, there will always be terrible tenants just as there are good tenants as well. 

Although we cannot avoid such situations, I’ve learned that there are ways to safeguard yourself and even minimise the likelihood of encountering terrible tenants. 

Now, 3 years after that fiasco, we now have a home that’s been restored and a pleasant new tenant with whom we have a great relationship with. While there have been ups and downs, we’ve always had mutual respect and trust for each other. And that should always be the case if either side hopes to reap the benefits of this agreement for an extended period of time. 

For more renting related articles, check out:

Cover image adapted from: Brendan Yee

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