Claims You Can Pursue At The Small Claims Tribunal

Business | 24 July 2017

You decide to rent an apartment, your rent is S$3500 a month. 3 days after you move in, the curtain rod falls on you, the tap comes off the sink, one of the light bulbs blew and your dog suddenly gets attacked by an army of ticks which then proceeded to lay baby ticks on him. You are annoyed and flabbergasted. You then proceed to complain to your landlord who told you that they’ve never had pets in their lives and therefore, that the apartment couldn’t have had ticks. There is a clause in your tenancy agreement that states that any repairs up to S$150 for wear and tear shall be borne by the Tenant. 

After a month of arguing with the landlord, there is no conclusive end to the squabble. You ask your landlord for reparations and your landlord refuses. You request to break the tenancy agreement but your landlord wants you to pay for the rest of the rent as agreed in your tenancy agreement. 

What do you do?

You then decide to head to the Small Claims Tribunal in order to file a claim against your landlord for the total sum of S$5000 which includes not only your medical bill for the curtain rod falling on your head but also repeated visits to the vet, fumigating your current place because your pet brought the ticks home to your new place after you decided to leave the apartment in dispute as well as the rest of the rent you think was owed you for the days you did not stay at the tick-infested apartment.

Such scenarios could happen to anyone. In fact, this happened to me. Know your rights, claims can be settled expeditiously at the Small Claims Tribunals (SCT) in the State Courts.  I filed for the settlement of my claim at the SCT and got a trial within a month with an SCT judge. The SCT is a quick and inexpensive forum for the resolution of small claims between consumers and suppliers.
What kinds of claims can you file at the SCT though?

The SCT has jurisdiction to hear claims not exceeding S$10,000. If your claim is below S$20,000, the SCT might hear your case if both the Claimant and Respondent consent in writing in a Memorandum of Consent that you can obtain online at the State Courts website or at the State Courts. 

In addition, the SCT only has the power to hear a limited selection of cases. There is a checklist of cases that you can refer to from the SCT official website. In a nutshell, these include cases that involve:
       i. sales of goods,
      ii. provision of services,
     iii. damage to your property,
     iv. tenancy contracts for a residential lease not exceeding 2 years,
      v. contracts to buy or sell foreign currency with a licensed moneychanger,
     vi. cancellation of contracts,
    vii. refund of motor vehicle deposits and (viii) opting out from under the Consumer Fair Trading (Opt-Out) Regulations 2009.

Say for instance, as a new start-up, you provided a 3D printing device to a customer for S$3000. The customer agreed to pay half of the price of the printer upfront and the other half at the end of the month. He’s paid S$1500 but refuses to pay the remaining after taking possession of the printer. You chase him for payment for 3 months and nothing has happened. You can then file a claim at the SCT against the customer. 

As your claim does not exceed S$5000 and you are a “non-consumer”, your filing fees to lodge this claim at the SCT would be S$50 (a “consumer” on the other hand pays S$10 for claims not exceeding S$5000). Filing fees at the SCT are non-prohibitive which makes it a good forum for simple dispute resolution; if the consumer’s claim exceeds S$5000 but not S$10,000, he pays S$20 as a filing fee to the SCT whereas the non-consumer pays S$100. In the event that the claim exceeds S$10,000 but does not exceed S$20,000, the consumer pays 1% of the total claim amount and the non-consumer pays 3% of the total claim amount.

In addition, please note that lawyers are not permitted to represent either of the parties at the SCT.  Also note that if you decided to pursue a claim more than a year later (assuming that the SCT would have jurisdiction), such claims would not be valid to the SCT.

If your claim does not fall within the jurisdiction of the SCT, that does not mean you’re precluded from having a remedy, this simply means that you have to pursue your cause of action in other civil courts, just not the SCT. 
Essentially, the SCT is a good quick and inexpensive forum to resolve small claims that fall under S$10,000. Lawyers are not required and are not supposed to represent the Claimant or the Respondent, witnesses may be called in and the referee can make swift decisions as to whether to enforce or reject the claim. Unlike in a higher court of law, the advantage of the SCT is that the losing party will not have to bear any legal costs incurred. 

Created 20 July 2017