Singapore's Covid-19 relief framework changes take effect, with more powers for assessors

CHANGES to Singapore's Covid-19 temporary relief framework came into force on Wednesday, including greater powers for government-appointed assessors of rental disputes, and a mechanism for paries to certain contracts to obtain relief in the case of delays caused by the pandemic.

The relevant amendments to the Covid-19 (Temporary Measures) Act were passed in Parliament earlier in September.

Rental relief assessors, who are appointed by the Ministry of Law (MinLaw) to deal with disputes arising from the temporary relief measures, are now able to determine the amount of rent to be waived in certain circumstances.

This is when the amount to be waived is affected by maintenance or service charges; when it can be offset by earlier provided assistance; when the tenant is occupying the property for only part of the relief period; or when there are multiple sub-tenants, not all of whom may be eligible for waivers.

The expanded powers only apply to unresolved disputes involving any of the above.

Landlords or tenants with disputes over the amount to be waived may now apply for an assessor's determination, by Oct 14 if the tax authority's notice of a cash grant was received by Sep 30, or within 10 working days of receiving such a notice.

"While late applications may still be considered on a case-by-case basis, we strongly encourage applicants to abide by the timelines for submission of an application as far as possible, for speedier resolution of disputes," said MinLaw.

Also coming into force on Wednesday was a part of the Act that provides a mechanism for parties to seek relief in three sorts of situations.

One is where the renter of goods used for construction work - for example, scaffolding material - would need to pay additional rental expenses to their supplier, due to a Covid-19-related delay or breach in a construction, supply, or related contract. The renter may apply for relief for these additional expenses.

Another is for tenants of non-residential property who are unable to carry out or complete renovation or fitting-out works during their rent-free period, due to the Covid-19 situation. Such tenants may apply for relief in respect of the rent-free period that they were unable to use.

The third situation is that of landlords unable to deliver possession or allow the use of a property by the date stipulated in the lease or licence, due to Covid-19-related delays in a separate construction contract with a third party. Such landlords may apply for relief in respect of their inability to meet the delivery date.

For all of the above, the affected contract must be in force at any time between Feb 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021 inclusive, and the delay or breach must have occurred between those two dates. The contract must also have been entered into before March 25, 2020.

Applications for relief must be submitted by May 31, 2021.

An assessor may adjust the contractual terms to mitigate the impact of the delay, for instance by extending the rent-free period for tenants in the second situation.