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Doing our part to eradicate vice in the heartlands

Property agents facilitating lease transactions should help homeowners and tenants with their due diligence checks to prevent their property from being used for vice activities. (Image: Unsplash)

In November 2019, the Women’s Charter (Amendment) Bill 2019 was passed in Parliament. The Bill seeks to strengthen the laws against online vice, and to enhance the Police’s levers against vice syndicates. These amendments will help, in particular, to stem an increasing trend of vice in the heartlands.

The amendments to the Women’s Charter are:

  1. Introducing extra-territorial jurisdiction,
  2. Enhancing penalties,
  3. Targeting the irresponsible lease of premises to prevent them from being used for vice activities, and
  4. Other amendments that address the changing modus operandi of syndicates.

Under the amended Bill, in the event where vice activities are detected at a property, homeowners and tenants will need to show that they had no knowledge of and could not, with “reasonable diligence”, have known that the place would be used for vice activities.

A way for homeowners and tenants to exercise reasonable diligence would be to conduct identity checks on their tenants and/or sub tenants at the point of signing lease agreements.

Crucial for property agencies and agents to play their part

Even as the amendments to the Bill are focused on homeowners and tenants, property agencies and agents play a crucial role in preventing the irresponsible lease of premises for vice activities.

Mr K Shanmugam, Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for Law, and Ms Sun Xueling, Senior Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Home Affairs & Ministry of National Development, emphasised this during an engagement session with representatives from the real estate agency industry in October 2019.

Property agents who are facilitating lease transactions should help the homeowners and tenants with their due diligence checks. These checks are currently part of the agents’ professional duties as specified in CEA’s Professional Service Manual.

At the engagement session, industry stakeholders gave many useful suggestions on how the government can partner the industry to keep vice out of neighbourhoods. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) is working with CEA to set out guidelines on the steps that property agents are required to take to help homeowners and tenants meet diligence requirements. These will be announced later.

It is not the MHA’s or CEA’s intent to target enforcement actions against property agents who have acted in good faith, and in accordance with their professional duties. However, property agents who intentionally assist in lease transactions with the knowledge that it could lead to vice activities at the premises may be liable for regulatory action by CEA under the Estate Agents Act.

At the second reading of the Bill in November 2019, Ms Sun said that property agents who do not comply with their professional duties, which include conducting identity checks on the parties involved in the lease transactions, may be penalised financially, or have their registrations suspended or revoked by CEA.

She added that errant property agents who intentionally facilitate any lease transaction with the knowledge that it would lead to vice activities at the premises are likely to face prosecution for abetting the commission of an offence under the Women’s Charter, or other relevant laws.

CEA’s Disciplinary Committee had previously sentenced a property agent to a six-month suspension and a financial penalty of $2,500 for a breach of the Code of Ethics and Professional Client Care. The agent had failed to conduct his work with due diligence and care when he facilitated the rental transaction on behalf of his client. He did not carry out proper checks to ascertain the identity of the tenant by sighting her original NRIC.

Agents can report suspicious behaviour and transactions to the Police through the Police hotline at 1800-255-0000. Alternatively, agents can also submit vice-related information online via i-Witness at or through the Police@SG mobile application.