MTI to strike balance in unveiling more rent data

TO ensure that businesses have more meaningful data to guide their decisions in the leasing of space, the government is releasing more rental information in a way that seeks to strike a balance between market transparency and data privacy protection. The Ministry of Trade and Industry (MTI) said on Wednesday that it is releasing more detailed data on rents for retail, office and industrial space through a multi-agency effort with the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and JTC - a process that started a year ago.

Teo Ser Luck, Minister of State for Trade and Industry, noted that there has been a lot of feedback from business sectors, trade associations, and the SME Workgroup that the way data is aggregated "sometimes isn't the most helpful because everybody has a different experience on the ground".

Information on rental data is currently released at the median percentile by street name.

For the first time, MTI will start to provide additional details by slicing the data by floor level ranges and unit size ranges. For instance, a business owner thinking of renting a retail space is now able to zoom in specifically into past quarters' monthly rental for certain unit sizes and floor levels within a certain district.

"We hope that with more detailed data, businesses will have a better idea of market rental rates, which in turn helps them decide where to site their shops, offices and factories," Mr Teo told reporters.

When both tenants and landlords are well informed, they make better decisions that are fair and transparent, and this will help build trust and confidence in the process, he added.

But the ministry is not releasing the rents of individual units because of data privacy issues. For retail and industrial space, the public can access information on monthly unit rents at the 25th, median and 75th percentile by floor level ranges and floor area ranges within each postal district. Retail rent data excludes HDB shop space and shophouses.

For office space, monthly unit rents will similarly be broken down into three percentile levels by floor area ranges and building class for different locations. Category 1 of building class refers to office space in buildings located in the Downtown Core and Orchard Planning Area, while Category 2 refers to the remaining office space not included in Category 1.

The public can find rental information on retail and office space on URA's website and rental data on industrial space on JTC's website.

The enhanced rental data will be published on a quarterly basis starting with the period Q1 2012 to Q4 2014. Only data points with at least three rental contracts in the quarter will be shown to safeguard the identities of individual units and building owners. All rental data is based on submissions to the tax authority and includes the gross turnover rent and the base rent.

Mr Teo said that the data format has been developed in close consultations with business groups and stressed that the work is not finished yet as the ministry will continue to gather feedback on how to make the rental information more meaningful.

Hailing the release of such rental data as crucial to the success of the Fair Tenancy Framework, Lawrence Leow, chairman of the SME Committee that is led by the Singapore Business Federation, noted that both the interests of the tenants and landlords are looked after.

"Credible up-to-date market information is very important because it helps not only tenants but also the landlords in managing their expectations and managing their negotiation process," Mr Leow said.

JTC market planning division director Leong Hong Yew said that JTC would continue to improve its data and see if there is a need for even more rental information. It is also slated to announce on Thursday a new methodology to derive its industrial rental indices.

The SME Workgroup, formed in September 2013, brings together grassroots advisers, government agencies and businesses on a single platform, to look into how the government can better help small and medium-size enterprises (SMEs).

The Fair Tenancy Framework was unveiled on Tuesday, establishing a set of clear leasing guidelines and negotiation principles for SMEs as well as landlords across the commercial, industrial and retail industries.

It was collectively developed by the Rental Practices Working Group (RPWG), the SME Committee and the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

Cynthia Phua, executive vice-president of Singbridge Corporation and chairman of the RPWG, said that the priority for the next six months is to raise awareness of the framework among landlords, tenants and trade associations.

The RPWG is also working with the Singapore Mediation Centre to create a fast track for lease agreement and rent disputes.

Source: Business Times, 22 Jan 2015