In Singapore, more landlords seek tenants who do not work from home: like ‘being invaded’

It is especially common for single-room rentals, as landlords want to avoid the hassle of splitting the utility bill, especially if tenants are home all-day

Privacy is another concern, as landlords learned during the height of the Covid-19 restrictions in late 2020 when people were told to stay home

Buildings in Singapore. Property agents said they have received more of such “no WFH” stipulations from landlords in recent months. Photo: Bloomberg
Buildings in Singapore. Property agents said they have received more of such “no WFH” stipulations from landlords in recent months. Photo: Bloomberg

It looked like a typical property listing: A common room for rent at S$950 (US$709) a month in the northern part of Singapore that comes with a super single bed, standing fan, wifi, laundry services …

Until one comes to this line: “Prefer tenant who does not work from home (WFH)”.

A quick scan of rental room advertisements on Carousell and PropertyGuru revealed that this requirement is not unique – quite a number of rooms available for lease specify that the landlord would prefer tenants who do not work from home.

Two property agents said they have received more of such stipulations from landlords in recent months.

A motorcyclists travels past a Housing & Development Board public housing estate in the Queenstown area of Singapore. Photo: Bloomberg
A motorcyclist travels past a Housing & Development Board public housing estate in the Queenstown area of Singapore. Photo: Bloomberg

It is especially common for single-room rentals, as landlords apparently do not want to go through the hassle of splitting the utility bill, especially if tenants are home all day.

Another reason landlords would prefer tenants not to work from home is the issue of privacy, said Jeanette Goh, a property agent who listed a single common room for rent in the west of Singapore.

“(The landlords) don’t like it; they feel a little stifled at home. Even though it’s their own unit and their own place, they feel like they are being invaded,” she said.

This could be due to their experience during the height of the Covid-19 restrictions in late 2020, when people were told to stay home and landlords found that their privacy was being invaded while their utility bills went up.

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Today spoke with several landlords who listed this requirement, and also to renters to find out how they feel about it.

Tham, who declined to give her full name, has a listing for a common room on Carousell for S$950 per month, which is inclusive of utilities.

It is cumbersome to split utility bills between landlord and renters, she said, adding she had posted the listing on behalf of the landlord.

Having a “no WFH” requirement safeguards landlords who would have to fork out the extra cost if utility bills were to exceed the threshold for that month, she explained.

She said that there have been cases where tenants “might not use the utilities responsibly”, especially if they are home all day, which is why this safeguard is in place.

“There must be some form of measures taken to take control of all this. All these expenses are extra costs that shouldn’t be charged to the landlord,” said Tham.

An elevated track for SMRT trains near Housing & Development Board public housing estates in the Sengkang area northeast of Singapore. Photo: Bloomberg
An elevated track for SMRT trains near Housing & Development Board public housing estates in the Sengkang area northeast of Singapore. Photo: Bloomberg

Another landlord, who prefers to be known as Ang, has a different reason for having a no-WFH policy: She takes care of five grandchildren, aged between three and 18, during the day.

She is renting out a single room in northeast Singapore.

Ang, who is in her 50s, said that the house would be “very noisy” if a tenant were to work from home and he or she would not be able to concentrate on work.

She also does not accept tenants who do shift work, as it would be difficult for them to sleep during the day.

Several tenants said the no-WFH criterion is an issue for them, and they would rather look for other places instead.

Sales manager Lynnette Gan, 33, said she does not think that the requirement is justified if tenants pay their share of electricity and water consumption.

Gan, who is on a hybrid work arrangement, has to work from home two days a week.

“It’s quite an unreasonable rule,” she said.

Recalling that she has come across such listings during her search for rooms, she said she usually “would not bother” to negotiate even if the unit is in an ideal location.

“The landlord might be agreeable at the point of negotiation, but what if halfway through, they change their mind or make it difficult for me to stay? It would cause unnecessary issues for me,” she said.

Buildings in Singapore. Photo: Bloomberg
Buildings in Singapore. Photo: Bloomberg

Similarly, Jasline Cheng, 27, found the no-WFH policy as unreasonable as the “no cooking” rule that some landlords impose on their tenants.

The communications representative, who is a local renting a room, said it can be frustrating to see a slew of restrictions when the monthly rental is more than S$1,000.

She would rather look for another listing that allows her more freedom.

“With the increase in rent and cost of living, do you really expect me to eat out every day?” Ms Cheng said.

Likewise, freelancer Bernard Boey, 26, values the flexibility to work from home offered by his current landlord.

He said it is important as he, too, has hybrid working arrangements.

“Even if I currently do not work from home, it is risky because circumstances may change quickly,” he said.

While such listings with clear limitations may appear unattractive to tenants, property agent Karine Lee, 31, said the good thing is that tenants can narrow down their choices further to rent an ideal unit.

She pointed out that the rental market has slowed down due to excessive supply, so tenants have more choices these days despite skyrocketing rental prices.

“Most tenants do not want to stay with problematic landlords. So if the requirements and restrictions are clear, it’s good for the tenants, too,” she said.

Conversely, slower demand for rental units may force landlords to change their criteria or lower their rental fees.

If landlords have many unreasonable requests, Lee said it would take them longer to rent out the room.

“Some landlords don’t mind waiting for the ‘perfect’ tenant, but some will not. They will try to make adjustments to rent out the unit as soon as possible to minimise the losses incurred during this empty period,” she said.

This article was first published by Today Online

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