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Singapore Landlady Troubles: Ho Sow Fong

Ho Sow Fong

The worst part of living in Singapore was dealing with my elderly Chinese Singaporean landlady called Ho Sow Fong (also known as Jane). I have heard of similar stories with similar landlords in Singapore so my experience is not exceptional so choose both your flat or apartment and your landlord very carefully. My landlady and agent initially seemed sane and reasonable but things rapidly became unpleasant or awkward and pretty nasty at the end when I was moving out.

I knew Ms Ho was peculiar when she first greeted me at the flat wearing white plastic gloves but she took one off to actually shake my hand. Other colleagues of mine at the IMCB had been to see the same wonderfully located flat (backing directly onto Kent Ridge Park, near work) but they had decided against renting it for a variety of reasons so I got a small discount against the advertised $2700 monthly rent. I needed to sign long legal letters of intent, study a variety of clauses and two-year contract versions and do a detailed inventory signed off in triplicate for my agent and Ho Sow Fong. I had hoped things might have been simpler because we shared an agent who initially asked me for one month's rent from me (for doing nothing for me which I laughed off) so I offered half leaving the landlady paying much more for the advertising etc. Most people in Singapore use an additional agent to find a flat so the complexity, conflicts of interest and financial cuts are usually worse.

During my flat inspection, I noticed that there was much gecko dung on the floor, that most of the kitchenware was nasty, worn or dirty but I was assured that everything was professionally cleaned but I was not worried because I knew that I would want to clean all the shelves myself and that I had my own kitchenware arriving soon. I pointed out a few leaking taps, smelly toilets, algal growth on the bathroom floor, broken shower hoses, thin gauge dangling wires for roof lights and anything else dodgy. I was asked to test the hot water in the kitchen and a neon light switch confirmed the circuit was activated and warm water started coming into the kitchen sink. Unfortunately, this was a mistake because the sun hits the cold water pipes and actually there was no electrical water heater for the kitchen ! All the air conditioner units seemed to cool but, again that was my misinterpretation of a gentle breeze coming from one of the ancient bedroom units. I knew that the flat had not been cleaned when I actually moved in because the some cupboards still contained the previous tenant's clothes and bike bags. I did not complain and was happy to pay for extra cleaning or do it myself once the other known problems were fixed. Unfortunately, whilst I was happy for my agent to supervise repairs by workmen in my flat, the landlady insisted that both she and I were also there to watch and waste our time. Actually, the landlady would complain loudly about things that I explicitly stated that I did not care about so it all got a little frustrating so when I noticed that one of the air-conditioners was not working, I thought that I could arrange a repair man myself so only two people needed to arrange a simultaneous appointment instead of four separate groups which was additionally complicated because I was supposed to be at work from 8:30 until after 6pm every day which were the only times that my landlady and woken wanted to visit ! Unfortunately, I failed to fix a price before the air-conditioner guy's assistant was dangling right out of my bedroom window without a rope three floors above concrete. After a look around the size of my flat and asking me questions about my salary, I was fleeced for S$200 to refill the empty AC unit with refrigerant gas.

Unfortunately, the AC was again not working efficiently a few weeks later so I had to contact the agent to ask the landlady to fix or repair the AC. Unfortunately, Ho Sow Fong did not believe me or the agent or the repairman regarding the low gas pressure so three more visits by me, the agent and the multiple repairmen were needed before a working S$750 AC was installed. Getting the hot water working in the kitchen was a similar pain with multiple emails and visits. The other initial pain was paying Ms Ho because she and her agent failed to provide me with the full bank ID, branch ID, and account ID so my electronic payments from two different bank accounts were always rejected and I needed to make special trips to her bank to pay by cheques until I worked with the three banks involved to get past their meaningless error messages and 5 day delays to get the problem solved. Cheques were always processed within the same day but electronic transfers took 5 or 6 days - don't ask me why !

The worst surprise was at the end when I was moving out. The landlady refused all my offers or many alternative days to leave and hand over keys and insisted on 14:30 one afternoon. I said that taking this time off work was not convenient but that I would oblige her if she was grateful for that and because I knew that everything was working now and that I had paid for two full days of cleaning by a Filipina maid so the flat would be in good condition. Unfortunately, my landlady soon forget about being grateful and caused me even more trouble at the end. She had bought two disgusting hard wood and plastic covered sofas for S$650 before I moved in (maybe 2nd hand but she claimed as new) and I covered them with hippy throw sheet for almost the entire time that I lived in the flat because wood does not make a good pillow and because dark brown plastic is ugly and sweaty in super-humid Singapore. At some time in the life of the sofa it had acquired an invisible 1.5 to 2 cm crack (not cut) in the lower right hand corner of the smallest sofa which somehow my landlady immediately discovered when she entered the flat to return keys. She than claimed that the invisible crack would prevent her from renting the flat whilst the smaller sofa was away being reupholstered.

Later on that moving out day, after long delays whilst I waited for her to instruct a variety of workmen around my flat she phoned for quotes for reupholstering and claimed it would cost 300 to 500 for the work and that I would have to pay. I suggested that the new bookcase that I was giving to her might partly compensate but she screamed that she did not want my bookcase (the flat had no shelves or bookcases) but with help from my agent begging and after hours of bargaining, I eventually got my two months of deposit cheque back minus only $200 and much wasted time away from work. I left but realised that I had left behind one set of keys behind (not for that flat) and tried to return but discovered myself locked out and despite leaving the electricity and water connected at the landlady's request (for appliance testing). Inside my flat, she turned on my AC ending up on my final bill and would not let me re-enter the property for which I was paying both rent and services ! Through the door, I asked her to stop using my electricity and I gave up and walked away happy to never see my worst landlady ever: Ho Sow Fong.

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