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COVID-19: New Bill seeks to force landlords to waive rentals for severely impacted SMEs

Closed shops seen inside the Ngee Ann City mall on 7 April 2020, the first day of Singapore's month-long circuit breaker period. (PHOTO: Dhany Osman / Yahoo News Singapore)

SINGAPORE — A new Bill to be introduced in Singapore’s Parliament next week seeks to force landlords to grant rental waivers to their small-business tenants who have been severely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This was announced in Parliament by Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat on Tuesday (26 May) when he unveiled the country’s $33 billion Fortitude Budget to support affected businesses, workers and households. It was the fourth Budget announced for the current financial year.

“We deliberated on this matter very carefully. The government does not ordinarily intervene in contracts after they have been entered into,” said Heng.

“However, as the Minister for Law had explained... in exceptional situations such as this, the government needs to intervene, through legislation, with temporary targeted steps to safeguard the economic structure for the common good.”

Heng said the new Bill would also provide small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with protection from onerous contractual terms such as excessive late payment interest or charges. It will also let tenants repay their arrears via instalments.

If passed by Parliament, the Bill will see SME tenants in commercial properties who have “suffered a significant revenue drop” benefit from a total of four months of rental relief, which will be “shared equally between the government and landlords”. Some rental support will also be given to SME tenants in industrial and office properties.

Also announced was a $2 billion cash grant – to be distributed through property owners – to help SME tenants offset their rental costs. Along with the existing property tax rebate, the grant will offset about two months of rental for qualifying SME tenants of commercial properties and about one month of rental for those in industrial and office properties.

This grant will be disbursed automatically to property owners from end-July.

Help for government tenants

Heng added that the government would also be leading by example in supporting its own tenants.

This will come in the form of providing two more months of rental waivers for commercial tenants and hawkers. The total rental waiver for commercial tenants will be raised to four months while that for stallholders in government-managed hawker centres and markets will be increased to five months.

For industrial, office and agricultural tenants of government agencies, one more month of rental waiver will be provided, taking the total to two months.

“We will also ensure that these measures flow through to help sub-tenants, many of whom are SMEs. This will dovetail with measures for SMEs being studied by the Minister for Law,” said Heng.

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