Planning to rent an apartment or house in Singapore? Renting is not a straightforward affair in Singapore. There are many rules and regulations that you need to know, lest you land in hot waters with the authorities.

For one, short-term rentals such as Airbnb and couch-surfing are illegal in Singapore. You can head to a hotel or hostel for one or two month rentals. If you are staying beyond three months, then you can rent an actual apartment or house in Singapore.

Here are some legal pointers and rental norms in Singapore you should know before you start renting an apartment or house in Singapore:

  • 3-month rental rule
  • Most landlords won’t entertain 3-month rentals
  • First and last month rent to be paid upfront
  • Rental lease vs rental license: Who is the master tenant holding the lease?

Scroll on for the best property websites to rent your apartment or house from in Singapore:

  • PropertyGuru
  • 99.co
  • iProperty
  • TheEdge Property
  • The Singapore Real Estate Exchange

1. Minimum Rental Period is 3 Months in Singapore

In Singapore, the minimum property rental period is three months – down from what used to be six months pre-2017. The shorter minimum rental period is set to benefit persons visiting Singapore for shorter-term stints such as academics, students on exchange programmes, and professionals on short-term assignments.

Why does Singapore have a minimum rental period?

Well, that’s because it’s not easy to find good tenants. Also, it discourages travellers from bringing and doing illegal things in local properties.

To the uninitiated, renting out a house or room may seem like an easy affair. I mean… all the landlord has to do is set a rental price, look for someone willing and able to pay it, then sit back and profit, right?

Not really.

For starters, being able to pay the rent isn’t the only thing a landlord looks for. Landlords are also trying to ensure that you, their potential tenant, is and law-abiding person. You shouldn’t be bringing problems – legal or otherwise – to your home.

Read Also: 9 Illegal Things Not Allowed in HDBs in Singapore

Even if the person looking to rent the house isn’t an Italian drug lord, landlords in Singapore want to make sure that the tenants don’t have any bad habits that could cause frustrations to them or the neighbours.

All these mean that it could sometimes take several tries before the right match between landlord and tenant is found.

2. Most Landlords Won’t Entertain 3 Month Rentals

It is rare for landlords to be able to line up outgoing and incoming tenants perfectly every three months for a seamless transition.

Instead, most landlords in Singapore prefer to have one or two-year-long tenancy agreements. That means lesser administrative work, lesser property agent fees, and lesser potential vacant periods for them.

And as vacant rooms don’t earn rent, more vacancies means less income for landlords.

How To Rent an Apartment in Singapore - A Beginner's Guide (Photo Pexels Monstera)

3. First & Last Month Rent Paid Upfront

With every change of tenant, landlords suffer a disruption to their income. Most landlords ask for the first and last month’s rent to be paid upfront. When a tenant decides to move out, their last month’s stay is rent free.

This means landlords have to go without rental income every time their tenant ups and leaves.

Sure, they have already collected that month’s rental in the beginning but that money may have already gone towards maintenance works and replacement of household equipment.

4. Rental Lease versus License

There are two kinds of people living in a rental apartment:

  • Occupants with actual leases
  • People who are given license to live there

When a rental lease is signed and accepted, the landlord transfers possession of the property to the legal tenant for a set period of time, and under certain conditions.

For example, you are probably familiar with the term “leasehold”. Most Singaporean properties have a 99-year leasehold, during which the owner has possession of the property.

Having a lease grants certain rights to the tenant. For example, tenants have a right to eject and sue trespassers, and even the landlord cannot wander into the property without prior arrangement.

A license, however, does not grant any proprietary interest in the property.

A license typically comes about as a private arrangement between the owner of the property, and someone who gets to stay there. For example, if you agree to let your visiting Canadian friend stay in your room, you’re giving that friend license and not a lease.

Another example would be when you check into a hotel. As a hotel guest, you do not have a lease; all you have is a license to use the room, based on your arrangement with the hotel owners or managers.

Difference Between Rental Lease vs License

The main difference is that licenses can be revoked by anyone in possession of the property. This is not necessarily the landlord, it can be a tenant with a lease as well.

For example, say you, Bob, and Mary get together to rent an apartment (rent is much cheaper when split three ways). However, only Bob is the actual listed tenant, and has the actual lease. You and Mary just have a license – an arrangement with Bob to split the rent, in exchange for which Bob lets you stay in the apartment too.

(The original landlord is fine with this, and doesn’t care so long as the rent gets paid).

Eight months down the road, Bob gets a big raise. He decides he wants more space to himself, and can pay the rent without your help. Bob tells you and Mary to pack up and leave. Now what can you and Mary do about it?

The answer is, quite probably, nothing.

Bob has a lease, and you don’t. He has possession of the property, and he can revoke your license anytime he feels like it. There’s no point going to the original landlord either. As long as Bob pays the rent, he retains the lease and the landlord can’t force him to keep you on.

How To Rent an Apartment in Singapore - A Beginner's Guide (Photo Pexels Vlada Karpovich)

One of you has to be the master tenant to hold the lease

If you’re going to split a flat with friends, make sure you understand the implications of only one of you holding the lease (i.e. being the master tenant). The master tenant with the legal lease can have everyone else evicted.

However, if you have a sublet contractual agreement to split the rent, and they’ve taken money from you, you might be able to sue them. The outcome would depend on the written contract you have. But know that in the immediate sense, they can force you to leave “their” property.

Whenever possible, we suggest that you try to be the master tenant holding the lease.

However, being the master tenant means you have to pay the full rent up front first before advertising online and looking for sublet tenants. It’s quite a lot of work, but a trade-off if you need the stability and security of legal lease.

Hotels and Airbnbs only give you the license to stay

Likewise, if you rent an apartment via a website like Airbnb, take note that you are not leasing the property. You’re merely entering into an arrangement with the leaseholder, who may themselves be a tenant. Said leaseholder can change their mind and revoke your license, just as hotels can also revoke your license and kick you out.

Sure, you could kick up a fuss, leave negative reviews, and later on sue in court. You’ll probably even stand a good chance of winning, as there are written (digital) agreements involved. But it could be cold comfort in the immediate situation, if you’re without a roof in a foreign country.

Just to be safe, make sure you don’t use Airbnb in Singapore since it’s theoretically illegal.

Read More: 9 Tips To Find Cheapest Rental in Singapore

5 Best Property Rental Websites in Singapore

Property websites in Singapore makes your search for property investments easier. These sites provide lots of tools to help you make that buying decision, such as the rate comparison and affordability calculators.

1. PropertyGuru

PropertyGuru is a good place to start your housing search. You can peruse a thorough listing of residential and commercial properties, as well as overseas properties. If you want to check out new condo launches, they are listed too.

Property investors may also compare rates for new mortgages and refinancings. Use the Affordability calculator, which takes into account all buying costs, to determine the down payment and monthly payments you can afford.

This website is valued for the quality of its education and information resources on the Singapore real estate market. PropertyGuru provides expert commentary via video on current issues of importance to real estate shoppers. Updates on the property outlook and prices can help you time purchases and sales.

Tips on how to broaden your portfolio into, for example, mixed use development or other Asian markets are provided. Find out how new developments such as the expanded city will affect the property scene. Property news, investor blogs and market valuation and pricing guides can help you make smarter buying decisions.

2. 99.co

99.co has developed a niche providing both sale and rental listings in the residential housing and condo market. Agents pay to list properties. The map-based search is easy to use and the company promises relevant and high quality listings.

If you like the simple, modular visual presentation of Airbnb with lots of high quality photos and easy navigation, you will like 99.co. Search by housing type, neighbourhood, or nearby station. A unique feature is its free photo service. Type in your address and availability, and 99.co will send out a photographer.

How To Rent an Apartment in Singapore - A Beginner's Guide (Photo Pexels Vlada Karpovich)

3. iProperty

iProperty is a popular search portal across Asia and billed as “Asia’s No. 1 Property Website.” A standard search interface is provided for residential and commercial real estate. Its main educational offering is iProperty.tv.

The website also provides a blog and guides. Guide topics include different types of investments (e.g., shoebox apartments), districts, renting, and property outlooks. While some of the content such as iProperty.tv is Malaysian-focused, a growing pool of resources targets the Singapore property investor. You can also shop for mortgagee deals on iProperty and use the Rate Comparison and Affordability calculators.

4. The Edge Property

Launched in May 2015 by The Edge Media Group, TheEdgeProperty is quite the new kid on the block. Here you will find a one-stop shop for property and rental searches, news, data and analytics. The website leverages the journalism resources of the business publications of its parent company to provide real-time real estate news.

Narrow down your property search with its strong analytical tools. Find out where the hot locations are in property sales. Historical data lets you compare how similar properties were selling, such as before the price decline. A useful tool is a desktop valuation tool that calculates the fair value of a property, using the same method as a licensed assessor in Singapore.

5. SRX (Singapore Real Estate Exchange)

Singapore Real Estate Exchange uses technology to make the real estate market more engaging. A 360 virtual tour shows you around a home before you visit.

The mobile Property Tracker app will provide you with your home’s value by SMS once a month. With the Heat Map, you can view housing price trends by neighbourhood at a glance. News, podcasts and videos are also available.

Part of this article first appeared on SingSaver, The New Savvy.