15th May 2014
An Article that appeared in BBC on May 1, 2014, which happens to be the International Labor day titled, “'No Indians No PRCs': Singapore's rental discrimination problem”, caught my attention. This also brings to the forefront a huge issue that needs to be addressed, a need for a dwelling, a safe haven to come back to after a hard day’s work.Is this true? Are we not willing to provide homes for the very people, whom we bring into our red dot to work for us? We must remember that these are also the people who contribute towards our economy and the development of our country and help make this little red dot of ours shine brighter as Senior Minister LKY envisions it.
Singapore is an ethnically diverse nation, consisting of 74% Chinese, 13% Malay, 9% Indian and 3% from other groups. However, as 90% of Singaporean households own their homes, a significant portion of renters are foreigners.
The emergence of anti-foreigner sentiments in Singapore has become a major cause of concern, with the government constantly urging the Singaporeans to welcome expatriates and to help them integrate into the city-state's multi-cultural society.Immigration has also become a sensitive issue, amid concern over living costs and rising housing prices, which many locals blame on foreigners.
Attitudes to race came to the fore in December, when hundreds of foreign workers from India and South Asia rioted after an Indian national was killed in a bus accident. This incident sparked a strong response on social media - many made comments denouncing foreign workers, yet; many others also spoke out against racism.The housing scene is not a far cry from this kind of prevalent sentiments.
Those who closely watch the real estate market know that many online home rental websites and newspaper advertisements in Singapore include the words "No Indians, no People's Republic of China (PRC)", which is sometimes followed by the word "sorry", depicting the increasing rental discrimination in the city.The issue appears more common with less expensive properties and on websites where content is posted directly by users, the Online Citizen reported.
The president of the Universal Society of Hinduism (USH), Rajan Zed, has called on Singapore's President Tony Tan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong to put an end to the discrimination, which is becoming a rising menace.
It was already quite challenging to find a home for Indians/ PRC’s, adding to this is the new NC subletting Quota Framework , which has been incorporated in this year to prevent the formation of foreigner enclaves and aims to maintain the Singapore character of our HDB heartlands while balancing the housing and subletting needs of citizens and foreigners in Singapore. The idea though quite noble has made it even more challenging to find a home for foreigners, who make up around a third of Singapore's work force.
Is this a race problem?Singapore has a beautiful confluence of different races co-habiting peacefully. The successful integration of the different segments of society has created an atmosphere of mutual respect for one another. In Singapore, it is not uncommon to find a mosque next to a temple, and marriages between people of different faiths and ethnic groups reinforce our unique social cohesion.
Problems faced for housing
Most Indian /PRC expats find it difficult to find an accommodation in Singapore quickly
Some advertisements mention, ”No cooking”, Some landlords also request for people to “Not Pray” as they are afraid of fire hazards caused by lighting lamps/ incense sticks which could be misunderstood as religious intolerance.Finding a house could be a humbling experience for many. It is not clear how many foreign workers have been affected. However, several expatriates have described experiencing varying levels of discrimination.
Mathew Mathews, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, says: "There are stereotypes that people have about different immigrant groups and how responsible they are in terms of the upkeep of a rented apartment".Singapore's government places a strong emphasis on racial & religious harmony. Studies suggest that there is relatively little racial discrimination in the public sphere, but things can be different in private.
Landlord’s take -'Cleanliness and culture'
Although it may appear as discrimination to the outside world, most landlords don’t want to rent out to these expats not because of discrimination but for economic reasons. The Landlords are more concerned with the loss of commercial value to their properties.Unlike the USA, where apartments are "corporate owned", In Singapore, houses are owned by individuals and if tenants have the right to choose where they would like to live, even landlords should have the right to rent to whoever they choose.
A count on 24 April by BBC found that there were more than 160 housing adverts on a popular website that clearly stated that the landlord did not wish to rent to Indians and/or mainland Chinese.Charlene, an estate agent, said it was common for landlords to prefer not to rent to tenants from India or mainland China because such tenants "are not people who are house proud". There are also fears that these tenants will illegally sublet to others, she said, adding: "Cleanliness and culture is a very strong factor."
There are notions of which groups take care of their homes better, and what cooking supposedly leaves permanent smells/stains in the house. People have notions about what would devalue their property. Many of these expats don't clean the houses regularly, and they do heavy cooking, so dust and oil collect over the months and by the time the tenancy finishes this gets to be a laborious cleaning chore which may have to be handled by professional cleaners who are quite expensive to afford for a common man. The Security deposits may not cover huge damages that the Landlord may have to incur. Lack of maintenance and cleanliness cannot be labeled as wear and tear. Sometimes the house deteriorates to a deplorable condition that it may not be rentable unless it’s renovated. Not only does the landlord have to bear the renovation expenses but also the loss of rent during the time that it is; ”not rentable”. If these risks are covered, the landlord may not choose their tenants based upon any race.Eugene Tan, Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University, says: "In the current state of ambivalence towards immigration in Singapore, my sense is that race and country of origin have taken on a stronger accent with regards to how landlords may view Indian/PRC tenants."
Even if an Indian/PRC expat holds a British passport or any other citizenship from a developed country they will still be viewed in the same light.
TENANT’s woesThe Indian /China PRC’s, usually land up getting a poorly maintained home with a non-co-operative landlord sometimes, who doesn’t want to repair or replace anything that is problematic /sub-standard. The tenants then worry about getting ripped off by their landlord when they move out for damages they didn't cause or for things that were deteriorated or broken when they had moved in. There’s a sentiment that, “IT (Information Technology) guys get paid a lot so; they can afford to pay for any losses”.
Landlord’s must give the house to the tenants in a good shape, take pictures of the home in the condition given in and ask the tenants leave it in the same shape it was in upon move-in.Tenant’s on the other hand instead of having a, “Sweep something under the carpet attitude” should be honest and upfront in their dealings and take care of the property with due diligence.
More problems could be solved if both the Landlords and tenants are professional and maintain the house well.
WHAT DOES THE LAW SAY
Article 12 of Singapore's constitution says:
(1) All persons are equal before the law and entitled to the equal protection of the law.(2) Except as expressly authorized by this Constitution, there shall be no discrimination against citizens of Singapore on the ground only of religion, race, descent or place of birth in any law or in the appointment to any office or employment under a public authority or in the administration of any law relating to the acquisition, holding or disposition of property or the establishing or carrying on of any trade, business, profession, vocation or employment.
Experts say the article can be used by a citizen against the state, but cannot be relied upon to seek legal redress against another individual or legal entity.The UN has noted that article 12(2) does not extend its protection to “non-citizens” of Singapore.
LEGAL GAPOf course, rental discrimination exists in many countries. A BBC study in October found that several estate agencies in London would refuse to rent to African-Caribbean people at the landlord's request.
However, while the UK has legislation banning discrimination on ethnic or nationality grounds, covering situations including "buying or renting property", Singapore offers fewer legal protections."There is no specific anti-discrimination law that can be used by non-citizens," says Prof Tan.
"Even if there is an anti-discrimination law, there is the challenge of proving discrimination… Indication of tenant preferences in rental advertisements may not amount to discrimination."Since it’s the person’s own house, his choices do come into the picture.
In a statement, PropertyGuru said discrimination on the basis of ethnicity or nationality was "absolutely not" allowed under its guidelines."There is a whistle-blowing feature for viewers... to report [content] that may be objectionable or derogatory," it said, and objectionable statements would be removed.
Around 1% of listings on its site contained objectionable content, it added.
The Council for Estate Agencies (CEA), a government body that regulates the real estate agency industry, has guidelines stating that agents should "advise their clients against placing advertisements that are discriminatory, offensive or stereotyped in nature against any particular race, religion or group in society".
In a statement, the CEA and the Ministry of National Development said: "We do not condone racial discrimination. There are advertising guidelines in place."Some landlords have explained that they face practical considerations renting out their properties, leading to certain requirements in rental transactions."
The statement added: "The Government will continue educational efforts on the importance of mutual respect to preserve ethnic harmony."Prof Tan believes that the discrimination will reduce over time. "With more apartments coming on stream in the next few years, landlords cannot afford to be so choosey," he says.
Change is ImperativeI believe that attitudes can be changed. The Government can hold a Migrants Orientation Programme based on the lines of the Employers' Orientation Programme conducted by the MOM, Singapore. New migrants can be educated about the life in Singapore. They could be integrated better into the society by educating them with the traffic rules, laws, cleanliness and housing etiquettes here. Views may definitely change over the decades with these kinds of actions in place.
As we continue to grow as a nation of immigrants, we need to make an extraordinary effort to understand them in their full context. As a nation built on the sacrifices of many different immigrant groups we must bear in mind that while the faces of immigrants have changed, their pioneering spirit, courage, determination, ability to thrive, and dreams of securing a better future for their children remain the same.I would like to end this on an optimistic note with this wonderful quotation by noted author & poet; Maya Angelou — 'The ache for home lives in all of us, the safe place where we can go as we are and not be questioned.'
Some Info courtesy: BBC & TOI