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I Lived With A Nightmare Landlord For A Year – Here’s How I Survived

24 August 2022 | BY

With a monthly rental of $800, a live-in landlord seemed like a worthy compromise. But then they got locked in together during the CB.

nightmare landlord

Being a single Singaporean in my late 20s is a massive struggle. After all, I can’t buy a BTO or resale flat until I’m married or 35, so there are only 3 options left: buy a condo, continue staying with my parents, or move into a rental unit. 

First, let’s take a few steps back and consider the financial aspects. The median gross monthly income for people in their mid-twenties is $3,500, according to MOM’s Labour Force in Singapore 2021 report. Following the 30% rule of thumb, where you shouldn’t be spending more than a third of your gross salary on rent, that makes a practical rental budget $1,050 at most.

Living in a studio apartment or one-bedroom can blow your budget way out of the water. Shoebox studio units in the city fringe like Kallang or Whampoa, for example, can cost $2,000. The only option left? Renting a room. 

The lucky ones will magically find chill housemates to live with. Most, however, end up living with a live-in landlord because the rental is significantly lower. But staying with a live-in landlord can go south very quickly. I know, because I’ve experienced it. 

Hitting the rental jackpot – or so I thought 

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A master bedroom that’s centrally located can cost up to $1,800/month – so I thought I hit the jackpot.
Image adapted from: 99.co

It all started in 2019 when I found a master bedroom in an HDB in a pretty central location. It checked most of my boxes: $800 a month with an ensuite bathroom, newly renovated, bus stop right in front of the block. The unit was on one of the highest floors, with stunning views of the surrounding estate – and you can even see the sea at Sentosa on a clear day. I thought I hit the rental jackpot. 

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A+ views which makes not having a living room worth it.

“Never ever live with your landlord,” my boyfriend at that time, who had years of experience renting, warned me. I swatted it off thinking he was being overly dramatic, but I soon found out.

I arranged for viewing and found out that there’s no living room to chill in. As it turns out, the landlord had hacked the living room down to make way for an extra room. “It’s better that way,” he says. “It’s usually one tenant who ends up using the living room.” 

The rental listing mentioned “light cooking only,” but I found out that meant using only the microwave or oven. I should’ve taken those as the first major red flags. But hey, I was just starting out my career in the media industry, and these were the concessions I was willing to make to cut some costs on rental.  

After all, I’m practically a hermit who just hangs out in my cave 24/7. So after thinking about it overnight, I signed the lease, and moved in.

Moving in 

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Image for illustration only.
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

The first few months of moving in were breezy. Initially, I barely saw my landlord. We didn’t share a bathroom and with  no common areas in the flat – my chances of seeing him in the house were pretty low.

I only said hello when I saw him in the common hallway and I was mostly out at work 5 days a week anyway. I had lunch with my colleagues in the office and dabao-ed dinner home, so there wasn’t a need for me to cook in the kitchen.

The turning point 

Then 2020 hit, and wfh became the default. It was then that our definition of “home” truly changed. It was during the circuit breaker that we were spending more time at home – and we couldn’t dine out either – so I used the oven and microwave in the kitchen a lot more. In my head, I was merely trying to get by while abiding by the “light cooking only” rule. 

That was when shit really went down and my landlord started losing his mind. I don’t think he was used to people actually living in the house – and maybe he felt like he lost a sense of control. Behold, the passive aggressive texts sent to me and another tenant who was staying in the next room. 

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I left my Gardenia bread, still in its plastic wrapper, on the kitchen top – because where else does it belong? 

Apparently “organic food” wasn’t the only thing he was allergic to – because he also started charging the other tenant a $5 cleaning fee for removing strands of hair from the shower drain. 

That was just the beginning. Over the next few weeks, he started dishing out random “cleaning fees” to make his time at home worth his while.

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Guess he charges $5/min, which amounts to $300/hour – a pretty lucrative pastime imo. 

I was polite and patient at first – after all, it was a tough time and everyone was dealing with it in different ways. But over time, and because no one should take any bs, I started being firm and pushing back. 

But the environment soon turned hostile, and I started to feel unsafe at home. The turning point came right after when my landlord threatened to call the police because he found strands of hair on the floor of the common areas.

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Me after sweeping up my strands of hair that have gone rogue.

Yes, I shed hair like a golden retriever. But any normal person would understand that as a natural phenomenon and drop me a text to come clean it up – but not my landlord. He saw it as an act of aggression on my end and threatened to report me to the police.

I’m condensing my experience into a few paragraphs because no one wants to see 100 paggro texts worset than your mother’s, and also because I don’t want to relive my trauma. We then mutually agreed that it wasn’t working out. And a month later, I moved out.

Red flags

Most of us who go house or room viewing turn up with a checklist of requirements in mind. Is the monthly rent below your budget? Is it near an MRT station? Is there a washer and dryer?

However, when you’re going to live with people, it’s very important to take that into consideration as well. In the best case scenario, they end up being part of your chosen family. Worst case, they’ll threaten to call the cops on you.

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Image for illustration only.
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

Sure, everyone’s going to put their best foot forward during house viewings. Most of the time, someone’s crazy will only emerge after a few months. In my case, it took the circuit breaker for my landlord to go, pardon my French, batshit nuts. 

Yet, there are always red flags you should look out for during the house viewing process: 

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This is the state of the rental market in Singapore.

Image adapted from: rentinsingapore.com

The “no cooking” rule

A very common rule in some apartments in the Singapore rental market is the “no cooking” rule. Or, the favourite phrase of landlords in Singapore: “light cooking only.” 

I don’t care how we’ve been conditioned to think this is normal – it is not. First of all, you’re not a guest in someone’s home. You’re paying rent, and you have free reign to treat it like your own living space. Of course, assuming you’re a responsible tenant. 

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Image for illustration only.
Image credit: TheSmartLocal

Believe it or not, one of my friends once stayed in a place which had a clause in her contract stating that she can’t eat food in the house – with the exception of instant noodles and McDonald’s. Well, I guess the landlord really loved Mcdonald’s.

No guests allowed 

This is another very common clause to see in the Singapore rental market. But hey, you didn’t move out of your parents’ home to be hit with yet another “no guests allowed” policy. 

It was only until I rented a whole apartment with my friends that I realise how liberating it was to have people over whenever you wanted to. Just have open communication and be considerate with everyone living in the house. 

Staying with a landlord

Maybe it’s trauma, maybe it’s just common sense. But if there’s one thing I’ve learnt, staying with the landlord will always be a tricky situation. After all, you’re living in “their home”, so you’re bound by their rules. 

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Always check if there’s a landlord staying in the apartment.

Image adapted from: rentinsingapore.com

And think about it – why would anyone want a stranger in their home? Most landlords in that situation are just looking for extra income, and you’re basically helping them finance their housing loan. 

At some point, it becomes borderline illegal. Another friend with a nightmare landlord story lived in a condominium apartment with 12 other tenants – because, you know, every square metre counts. 

Tips for survival 

Because I’ve gained a whole lotta wisdom from this whole experience, I’ve also amassed some handy tips for survival should you ever find yourself in a similar situation.

Stay calm

In retrospect, I think I handled it pretty well by staying calm without starting an argument. I mostly kept myself scarce and replied to his paggro messages in a matter-of-fact tone. Part of the reason is because I tend to avoid conflict like the plague; another was because I was dealing with a lot of other things in life then, like that thing that almost everyone else in the world had to deal with too.

My first and very important tip for anyone stuck with nightmare landlords is to first stay calm. You can’t fight fire with fire. But at the same time, make sure you maintain your boundaries and never be a pushover. 

Try to find common ground

As with any other disagreement or conflict in life, first try to find common ground. Have an open conversation, preferably in person so your tone doesn’t get misconstrued. This is assuming your nightmare landlord is a reasonable person – which, I know isf a paradox. So on to the next one. 

Move out

When push comes to shove, removing yourself from the situation is always the most ideal outcome. I was worried for my safety and was constantly having panic attacks whenever my landlord’s name popped up on my phone screen. It didn’t help that I was living on my own in this psycho’s house. 

But before you decide to run for the hills, have a look at the rental agreement to make sure that you’re not breaking any clauses. Worst case scenario is that you lose your rental deposit, but that might just be worth it for your peace of mind. 

Nightmare landlords in Singapore 

It’s a sad fact of being a rentee, but nightmare landlords are pretty common in Singapore. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from this entire experience, it’s that you should always be extra selective with who you choose to live with. 

When it comes to the rental market in Singapore as a 20-something-year-old, the bar is low – but that should not be the standard. 

I’m now living in a 3-room HDB with 2 other housemates that I’ve become friends with. There are no crazy rules, cooking and visitors are definitely allowed, we respect each other and we take care of the unit like it’s our own. And that is what home should be – a safe space, not one where you’re kept on your toes all the time. 

Thinking of renting, read our other articles here:


Cover image adapted from: Team Uchify

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