SINGAPORE: Amendments to the COVID-19 (Temporary Measures) Act were passed on Friday (Sep 4) to update rental relief measures implementation and to extend arrangements for remote meetings during the COVID-19 crisis.
The Bill also introduced temporary powers for the Law Minister to extend certain collective sale deadlines, on a case-by-case basis.
This update comes about four months after the Act was enacted in April to provide legal relief and mechanisms to support businesses and individuals amid the pandemic. In June, it was amended to provide a rental relief framework for small- and medium-sized enterprises and enhance the reliefs for those affected by COVID-19.
Since April, more than 6,800 parties have sought temporary relief for their inability to perform contractual obligations, said the Ministry of Law (MinLaw).
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“The Bill today builds on the reliefs that we have already put in place, by ensuring that they can be implemented more smoothly and more efficiently, and to make sure that the reliefs get to the ground in the best possible way,” said Second Minister for Law Edwin Tong in Parliament on Friday.
The rental relief framework in place mandates equitable co-sharing of rental obligations between the Government, landlords and tenants, and provides additional rental relief for tenants who were substantially impacted by COVID-19.
A landlord who is unable to reach an agreement with his tenant may apply to have an independent rental relief assessor ascertain the tenant’s eligibility for rental waivers and the landlord’s eligibility to provide a reduced amount of rental waivers, on the basis of financial hardship.
As of Sep 1, more than 7,000 Notifications for Relief have been served through MinLaw’s electronic system, Mr Tong said. A total of 1,272 applications for determinations by assessors have been filed, and nearly 60 per cent of these applications have been dealt with in about four months.
"The relief measures have been a lifeline for many Singaporeans and local businesses," said Mr Tong, who added that the amendments are being made after feedback from the ground.
Amendments to the Act will expand the powers of rental relief assessors so that they can make determinations on unresolved disputes on the amount of rent to be waived.For example, it will address instances where service or maintenance charges, which are not covered by reliefs, are not broken down under the lease agreement.
A second amendment to the Act extends orders allowing alternative virtual arrangements for meetings that require personal attendance, which were due to expire by end-September. Examples of such meetings are annual general meetings, trade union meetings and town council meetings.
“Some entities gave feedback that they would like greater certainty over the duration of the alternative meeting arrangements as they must plan for their meetings months in advance.
"The amendments to the Act will allow alternative meeting arrangements to remain in force, if necessary or expedient to prevent the spread of COVID-19, regardless of whether safe distancing regulations change or cease,” said MinLaw.
There were also amendments made to ensure that different dispute resolution mechanisms interact smoothly. This applies to Part 8 of the Act, yet to come into force, that gives parties to some types of contracts a mechanism to obtain relief if they are affected by breaches or delays in construction, supply or related contracts.
"This was introduced in light of the severe impact that COVID-19 had on the construction industry," said Mr Tong.
He gave the example of a contractor who had rented equipment from a supplier, but was unable to use it because the work site was closed during the circuit breaker period.
"This would be where Part 8 can come in to play a part to resolve the matter in a just and equitable manner between the parties," he said.
On the en bloc arrangements, Mr Tong said that collective sale committees have given feedback that their ability to complete the collective sale process has been "genuinely impacted" by COVID-19.
MinLaw said that further details of the amendments are being worked out and will be announced separately. The ministry aims for the amendments, together with the necessary changes in subsidiary legislation, to take effect before end-September.