Letter from a Mr Ng.
My friend (who is single, unemployed and illiterate) wanted to rent out one room in her HDB flat after her retrenchment in January this year as a source of income, since being single, she stayed with her niece most of the times.
She found an agent through the classifieds. The agent later informed her that he had found a tenant for her room. The agent asked her to sign the tenancy agreement without telling her who the tenant was and did not give her a copy of the agreement, and told her there was no need to do an inventory list.
After receiving deposit, she did not receive any further payment for rent for the next 5 months. On several occasions when she went back to the flat, she was denied access because the padlock was changed, despite the fact that she had originally told the agent she just wanted the rent out only the master room and she had locked up the store room and common room to store her personal belongings and antiques. After 5 months of collecting the rent unsuccessfully, she finally decided to seek help from her niece and I.
We called the agent to demand payment, it was only then that we found out he was also the tenant. We went down to her flat and found that the agent had sublet her flat to 4 tenants illegally, at a higher rent, hence making a profit in the process. The tenants claimed they had rented the flat from the agent through friend’s recommendation, and they had been paying rent to him because he had lied to them that the owner was always not in Singapore. We also found that the store’s lock had been broken and the valuable antiques inside were missing. We suspected there was fraud and theft so we called the police immediately.
However, despite the fact that we had evidence to prove that the agent had misrepresented himself by hiding the fact that he was the tenant, had not paid rent since the agreement was signed 5 months ago and had sublet the flat at a profit, and had even admitted breaking the lock on the store to gain illegal access to the antiques inside, he was let off on the spot, no further investigation was made against him!
Two weeks later, my friend received a claim against her by the agent from the Small Claims Tribunal Court (SCT). He wants to claim back the deposit paid as he claimed the owner had breached the contract. He also claims that the furniture that are in the flat belong to him, despite the fact that they belong to my friend. We helped her to lodge a counter claim for the rent arrears as well as the valuable antiques lost in the house.
As she is illiterate and extremely timid and gullible, she was so stressed over this matter that she fell sick on the day before the hearing. She suffered from high blood pressure and anxiety, and her doctor gave her an MC to certify that she was unfit to attend court. She signed a letter of authorization for me to attend the court hearing on her behalf. This letter was an official form from the SCT. However, the registrar rejected this letter and MC, with no reason given.
I tried to explain why my friend could not attend in person and that I was present at the time we chased out the illegal tenants and found that the antiques were missing, and I had perfect knowledge of the whole incident, but the registrar just brushed off whatever I was trying to say and ordered me to leave, without giving me a chance to talk. I requested to postpone the hearing but he told me in a harsh tone not to tell him what to do. I was ordered to leave immediately, ending the hearing in less than 5 min.
I was left feeling criminalized by the registrar throughout the whole hearing, despite the fact that we are the victims. He should at least give me a chance to speak, since my friend had been certified unfit to attend court and I had been authorized officially to represent her and had all the proper documents relating to the case. He should not just repeatedly ordered me to leave the consultation room.
This whole incident left me thinking:
1. This is obviously a cheat and theft case, why did the police not do anything about this and let the culprit off? By letting him off the hook, they are allowing the unscrupulous agent to use the same method to cheat more unknowing victims. My friend is lucky that she has her niece and I to fight for her justice, I shudder to think how many more gullible and illiterate owners who do not know the rules or speak up for themselves would fall victim to this scam.
2. The agent had misrepresented himself by hiding the fact that he was also the tenant. He had owed rent arrears for 5 months, and had sublet the flat illegally for a profit, he had breached the tenancy agreement by doing so, and yet he is now turning around and instead claiming against the owner for breach of agreement. We pride ourselves as a society of law and order, why are we allowing this unjust thing to happen? What logic is there that the owner had to let the culprit owe rent, sublet her flat and earn profits at her expense, in the process even paying PUB bills for the illegal sublet tenants? And the culprit is now going to the court to claim against the owner for breach of contract and even claiming that the furniture and electrical appliances that belong to the owner are his. Is there no justice?
3. I know there is interpreter in SCT. But what is the use if a person cannot even think and speak properly in a stressful environment? My friend has been deeply perturbed by not having any income for the past 5 months, she is now living from hand to mouth. She is illiterate, and she cannot speak well, in fact she is one who do not know how to speak up for herself, as can be seen from the fact that she waited for 5 whole months before seeking help after repeatedly being denied access to her own house and failure to collect the rent arrears. She has never been to court; to her, only criminals go to court, and she is so worried that she will be tongue tied and reprimanded by the ‘judge’ (she has the notion the registrar is a judge) that she is now suffering from anxiety and her BP is 180, a normal person’s being 120. On the other hand, the culprit is a property agent who is good with words. If she is not allowed to be represented by another person, this is unfair to her. If an order is made against her because she cannot speak up for herself, I must say there is something terribly wrong with our system of justice- she is the victim in this case! She does not have the money to engage a lawyer to represent her. Now she is left out in the cold, helpless. Is there no justice for the poor and the illiterate? Please tell me that this is not how Singapore society functions. Please prove to us that there is still justice and compassion in our society.
4. Why am I being treated as if I were a criminal and ordered to leave the court without given a chance to speak on behalf of my friend, despite the fact the I had done nothing wrong and had all the proper documents to show that my friend was sick and had authorized me to represent her?
5. Why is it that the agent who misrepresented himself; and who had been cheating his client, still be allowed to work in this profession? I hope IEA can look into this matter.
I am just acting as a good Samaritan, trying to help a poor and illiterate friend, I do not get any benefit in return, in fact I paid for the $100 counter claim for SCT, yet in the whole process I feel so helpless. If things were so difficult even for me to help to speak up for a victim in SCT, who would care or dare to lend their helping hands to the poor and illiterate anymore? Isn’t Singapore aiming to be a graceful and compassionate society? Why make things so difficult for good Samaritan like us? We cannot let the story of ‘The Merchant of Venice’ happen in Singapore, we must help the poor and illiterate, because if we don’t, who will?