Brothels in HDBs and Condominiums – You May Be Liable!


The Story In 60 Seconds

  • Increase in reports of brothels being operated out of residential apartments
  • Landlords, agents or tenants of these brothels are liable to charges under the Women’s Charter unless able to prove that they had no knowledge that the premises were being used as a brothel (difficult)
  • A fine of up to S$3,000 or an imprisonment term for the maximum of 3 years, or both, may be imposed if you are first-time offender
  • Landlord in this situation can obtain a Magistrate’s Order to receive possession of your property should the errant tenant refuse to do so
  • Take precautions by conducting the proper checks on a prospective tenant before renting out your property

There have been reports of an increasing number of illegal brothels operating out of residential apartments

There has been an increasing number of newspaper reports reporting the operation of unlicensed brothels in residential housing properties. These brothels have been discovered to operate out of both Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, as well as, private condominiums.

This rise in vice-related activities in residential units may be attributed to several factors. Firstly, a higher level of privacy and discretion is afforded at such a location which may be more appealing to customers. There is also the element of convenience for customers who would no longer need to travel to the red-light districts for such services. The lower rental of such residential properties and decreased risk of detection are also more attractive to brothel operators.

What does the law say?

In Singapore, it is illegal to keep, manage or assist in the management of a brothel. It is also illegal to solicit sexual services for gratification and live off the earnings of a prostitute, amongst other offences.

Under Section 148 of the Women’s Charter, no property (or any part of it) should be used as a brothel. This means that:

  • The tenant, lessee, occupier or person-in-charge of the premises; or
  • The landlord, owner of the property, and/or his agent,

would be guilty of an offence unless they can prove that they were unaware that the location was being used as a brothel.

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Landlord, owner and agents who are offenders may be liable to fines or imprisonment terms or both

First-time offenders may be fined up to S$3,000 or face an imprisonment term not exceeding 3 years, or both. In the case of a subsequent conviction, the repeat offender would face an increased fine of up to S$10,000 or an imprisonment term of up to 5 years, or both.

Duty to report the operation of illegal brothels

If you become aware of illegal vice-related activities being conducted in the premises, you have a duty to report such activities to the authorities.

Frequently asked questions

Question 1: I am a tenant subletting out an apartment. According to the police, the apartment has been turned into an illegal brothel. But I had no idea it was happening! Am I still liable?

As it is presumed that the tenant is the only authorised person to enter and occupy the premises after the landlord has handed over the keys, there is a further presumption that the tenant must have known and/or allowed the premises to be used for the operation or management of a brothel.

Unless you are able to clearly prove that you had no knowledge of the premises being used as an unlicensed brothel, you will be liable.


Question 2: I am a landlord, and I found out from the police that my tenant was running a brothel. What can I do about the lease?

If your tenant has been found to be operating an unlicensed brothel from your property, you are entitled to terminate the lease or tenancy agreement. You may also seek or claim damages against your tenant for the breach of the tenancy agreement.

If the tenant refuses to return the property, you may apply to the Magistrate’s Court for a summary order for you to receive possession of the property. Should the tenant persist in refusing to return the property, he or she may face additional criminal charges for disobeying such an order. The punishment for this is a maximum fine of $1,000 or imprisonment term of 1 month, or both.


Question 3: I want to rent out my apartment, but I don’t want to find my property being turned into a brothel! What should I do?

Prior to renting out your property, you should request for their identification documents. You should also be aware of the occupation and place of employment of your prospective tenants. By conducting this ‘screening process’, you – as a landlord, can be seen to have generally discharged your duty of care in ensuring the good character of your prospective tenant.

Tenants planning on leasing out the property to sub-tenants should also take care to follow the tenancy agreement to the letter, and only allow authorised occupants to reside on the property.

Question 4: What are the possible signs that vice-related activities are being carried out from a residential property?

Even after the conduct of diligent checks, there may still be the possibility of an unlicensed brothel being operated from a property. There are several signs that may suggest this:-

  • An increase in male visitors to the apartment, especially at odd hours of the day
  • The conduct of these male visitors – such as making a phone call, instead of knocking, to gain admission into the flat
  • Any loitering of male visitors along the corridor or at the void deck of the block


Question 5: What will happen to a HDB flat if its owner(s) was/were aware of vice-related activities being conducted on the premises?

Stern action will be taken against HDB flat owners who have been found to have misused their flats for illegal purposes. These measures include the compulsory acquisition of the HDB flat or imposition of fines under the Housing and Development Act. A debarment from buying another HDB flat may also be imposed.


This post first appeared on Asia Law Network was written by Marianne Chew.


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