Lelong! Lelong! Lelong!
If you’ve just won a lawsuit, congratulations. If your opponent has not complied with the Court’s judgement, you can apply for a Writ of Seizure and Sale to take their property away, and recoup debts owed. If, however, you’ve just lost a lawsuit, then I offer my deepest commiserations. If you don’t pay your debts according to the Court’s judgement, your opponent has the right to seize your belongings, and sell them off to repay the money you owe. Depending on your case, this may even involve taking away personal assets like your house, car, and more (frightening – I know).
In all civil lawsuits, the winner (technically called the “Judgement Creditor”) is responsible for enforcing the judgement against the loser (“Judgement Debtor”). This means that although one party has won the lawsuit, the winner still needs to incur further expense and effort in making sure their opponent pays their debts.
One of the most popular methods of judgement enforcement is a Writ of Seizure and Sale (WSS).
In this guide, we’ll go over:
- What is a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
- What’s an example of a Writ and Seizure Sale?
- How do Creditors determine a Debtor’s assets?
- What can Creditors seize?
- What can Creditors not seize?
- How do Creditors get a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
- Can Debtors temporarily pause a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
- How is property seized?
- How is property sold?
- How can I protect myself from a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
What is a Writ of Seizure and Sale (WSS)?
A Writ of Seizure and Sale is a legal document authorizing the winning party to seize the losing party’s belongings. The winning party can apply to the Court for permission to do this, so that the winner can have their debts repaid. The Court will appoint Bailiffs (officers of the Court) who will assist in enforcement of the Court’s judgement.
Under Section 16 of the Subordinate Courts Act, the bailiff can forcibly enter the Judgement Debtor’s premises to seize his/her property. Property that is seized can be sold via auction to pay the debts owed.
If the Judgement Creditor believes the Debtor owns valuables physical assets, a Writ of Seizure and Sale can be a useful way to force the liquidation of these assets.
What’s an example of a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
In 2017, news broke of a businesswoman, Song Fan Rong, who was being sued for $9.5 million. Ms. Song was the founder of a chain of 8 kindergartens in Singapore. Ms. Song was being sued for defrauding three businessmen from China. She had made multiple misrepresentations of being able to help them acquire Singaporean citizenship, in exchange for the businessmen investing in her business. She lost the case.
Although it was not publicly revealed whether the creditors pursued a Writ of Seizure and Sale against Ms. Song, such an option would certainly have been open to them. The three businessmen could have filed for a WSS to seize the kindergartens. The kindergartens could then be auctioned off to recover the money they were cheated of.
How do Creditors determine a Debtor’s assets?
When considering whether to apply for a Writ of Seizure and Sale, a Judgement Creditor should first determine whether the Debtor has physical assets of value that could be sold. The Judgement Creditor will also need to understand the value of these assets, and where these assets are located. To do this, the Judgement Creditor can apply for the Court’s permission to examine the Judgement Debtor.
The Judgement Creditor can do this via the eLitigation system. If the Judgement Creditor has a lawyer, the lawyer will do these steps for them.
If the Court grants permission, the Court will order the Judgement Debtor to attend a Court session. The session will involve questioning the Judgement Debtor on:
- What assets they own
- The value of these assets
- Where these assets are kept
This will allow the Judgement Creditor to decide whether it’s worth it (or not) to seize the assets and sell them off. Debtors can be imprisoned for not appearing at the examination.
What can be seized under a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
Almost all kinds of property can be seized. Property that can be seized are divided into two classes: movable vs immovable.
Writ of seizures for movable property include (but are not limited to):
- Machinery and equipment
- Electronic equipment
Writ of seizures for immovable property include:
- Houses (HDB flats, condominiums, landed properties, etc.)
What cannot be seized under a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
The following property cannot be seized under a WSS:
- $1,000 worth of clothing, bedding, and tools of trade which belong to the Judgement debtor or their family must be left to them. Any combination of such items worth over $1,000 can potentially be seized.
- Cannot seize Judgement Debtor’s salary/wages (however, bank accounts can be seized via “garnishee proceedings”, which is another type of legal enforcement for debts).
- Cannot seize CPF, pensions, gratuities, or allowances provided for by the government.
- Cannot seize Judgement Debtor’s shares in a registered Partnership.
- If the Judgement Debtor is an artist, cannot seize tools that they need to earn a living (e.g. sculpting equipment for sculptors, pottery equipment for potters, etc.)
- If the Judgement Debtor is a farmer, cannot seize their animals, crops, seeds, and farming tools.
- Cannot seize HDB flat, unless the Judgement Creditor seeks permission from HDB.
How do Creditors get a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
There’s two methods to apply for a WSS.
Method 1: Online Application (most convenient)
Creditors can apply online using the eLitigation system. If you have a lawyer, they will likely do this for you.
Method 2: In-Person
If you prefer to do it in person, you can apply for a WSS at a CrimsonLogic Service Bureau.
This is located at 133 New Bridge Road, Chinatown Point #19-01/02, Singapore 059413.
Phone: 6538 9607
Monday to Friday: 8:30am – 5:00pm
Saturday: 8:30 am – 12:30 pm
Sunday and Public Holidays: Closed
What are the types of Writ of Seizure and Sale?
There are 2 types of Writs of Seizure and Sale:
- Writ of Seizure and Sale for movable property
- Writ of Seizure and Sale for immovable property
Getting a Writ of Seizure and Sale for movable property
Usually, Creditors don’t have to apply for the Court’s permission specifically for movable property. When the Writ is granted by the Court, and the Bailiff has been engaged, most movable property can be seized upon entry into the Creditor’s premises.
However, there are some exceptions to this where permission is required.
Examples of such exceptions include:
- The Judgement was delivered 6 or more years ago. It’s rare that one would wait that long to enforce the judgement, though.
- The Judgement Creditor has passed away.
- The Judgement Debtor has passed away. The Debtor’s assets have since been transferred to their family, executors or administrators.
- If the Debtor has been making payments to the Creditor, but the Creditor disputes this and wishes to seize the Debtor’s property. Example: A Debtor has been making monthly payments to their Creditor. The Creditor disputes this, and wishes to seize the Debtor’s belongings to enforce the judgement. The Creditor will have to apply for permission from the Court and prove their case before they can seize the Debtor’s property.
- When a Debtor enters bankruptcy, and their property is being handled by a receiver. Creditors must apply for permission, because Debtors may have multiple creditors. The receivers must balance the interests of the Debtor’s various creditors.
To apply for the Court’s permission to claim the above properties, Creditors must state the following to the Court:
- Identify the specific Court judgement against the Debtor.
- If the Court has awarded monetary damages, state the amount awarded, plus any interest accrued since then.
- If the Judgement was delivered 6 or more years ago, and no enforcement action has been taken, explain why enforcement should now be taken.
- Argue that the property to be seized does belong to the Debtor
- Provide other supporting arguments on why the Judgement Creditor should have the right to enforce the Writ of Seizure and Sale
Getting a Writ of Seizure and Sale for immovable property
Immovable property refers to buildings, homes, and land. Creditors must apply for the Court’s permission to seize immovable property. Creditors should submit similar arguments to applications for seizing movable property.
There are some complexities with seizing and selling immovable property that Creditors should be aware of.
Firstly, Debtors can try to frustrate the auctioning process by repeatedly changing the locks on their seized property. Remember that the Bailiff does not actually have the power to possess the property. Before the property is auctioned off, the property is still owned by the Debtor. The Bailiff only has the power to forcibly enter the Debtor’s premises. In such scenarios, every time a Creditor has a potential buyer who wants to view the seized property, Creditors will have to send a locksmith to break the locks. This can be quite a hassle, adds yet another expense to enforcing the judgement, and makes for a poor experience for the potential buyer. The Bailiff must also be present at these viewings, which can be administratively cumbersome since both the buyers’ and Bailiff’s schedules need to be accommodated.
Secondly, if the Debtor’s seized property has a mortgage on it, the seized property cannot be auctioned off below the “forced sale value”. This is the minimum value that mortgage lenders (e.g. banks) expect to sell the property at. When seized properties are being auctioned, it’s not easy to get a fair asking price that is above the forced sale value, since buyers know the property is being auctioned off to pay debts. It is likely that Creditors will face a long-drawn auction process when trying to sell Debtor’s buildings, homes, or land.
Can an HDB flat be seized to repay creditors, under a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
HDB flats can only be seized if all the owners of the flat are not Singapore Citizens. If at least 1 owner of the flat is a Singapore Citizen, the flat cannot be seized. HDB flats owned by at least 1 Singapore Citizen are protected from seizure under Section 51(3) of the Housing and Development Act.
Can Debtors temporarily pause a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
Yes, but the keyword here is “temporarily”. If Debtors can prove that they do not have sufficient assets to repay the debts even via a seizure of their property, then they can apply for a “Stay of Execution” to the Court. If approved, the Court will issue an order to temporarily stop the Judgement Creditor from enforcing the Writ of Seizure and Sale. Durations of the stay can range from a few days to a few months, depending on the circumstances. But eventually, the stay will run out, and the debtor will have their property seized unless they repay the full amount of their debt.
Debtors who wish to apply for a Stay of Execution must explain the following points to the Court:
- Judgement Debtor does not have sufficient assets to repay debts
- Judgement Debtor’s income level is insufficient to repay debts
- List of Judgement Debtor’s assets owned, along with their values
- List of Judgement Debtor’s liabilities, along with their values
How is the Writ of Seizure and Sale executed?
If the Court approves the Creditor’s WSS application, the Bailiff will send the Creditor an appointment letter. This appointment letter will inform you of the date that has been fixed for you to meet the Bailiff, and other important details related to the Writ’s execution.
Before Creditors meet the Bailiff, they will need to pay a deposit of $300 (or the amount requested by the Bailiff) at the Finance Section of the State Courts. If you’re a Creditor, make sure you pay this deposit, otherwise the seizure cannot be carried out.
On the appointment date, either the Creditor, or their authorised representative, will need to provide the following items to the Bailiff:
- The appointment letter that Creditors received from the Bailiff
- The deposit receipt from the Finance Section of the State Courts
- A Letter of Authorisation and Indemnity signed by the Creditor. If the Creditor is a business entity, make sure to apply the company stamp on the Letter.
- If requested by the Bailiff, Creditors will need to pay for the Bailiff’s transportation fees to execute the WSS.
Entering the Judgement Debtor’s premises:
If the Debtor’s premises are not locked, the Bailiff will enter the Judgement Debtor’s premises. They will seize items by pasting an official sticker on items that are to be claimed for sale. If the Creditor accompanies the Bailiff, they can also point out items that they want to have seized.
After the items have been marked, the Bailiff will serve a notice on the Judgement Debtor ordering them to not touch, move, or otherwise interfere with the marked items. These items are seized and no longer belong to the Debtor.
If the Judgement Debtor’s premises are locked, or the Debtor resists the execution of the Writ of Seizure and Sale, the Bailiff will leave the notice of seizure outside the premises.
Although the Bailiff has the power to forcibly enter the Debtor’s premises, in practice, they usually will not break into the premises on their first trip to seize property. If the Bailiff cannot seize property on their first try, Creditors will have to apply for another attempt to seize property. Creditors will have to apply for a new appointment with the Bailiff, and pay the required application fees.
The Bailiff may choose to forcibly enter the premises on the second attempt onwards. Bailiffs are allowed to break down doors or windows to enter the premises. However, in practice, Bailiffs will usually bring a locksmith with them. Creditors must pay for the services of the locksmith if a forced entry is conducted.
What happens after the bailiff seizes the property?
After the seizure is conducted, the Judgement Debtor will have 7 days to pay the full debt owed to the Creditor.
If after 7 days the Creditor still has not received full payment, then the Creditor can auction off all the seized property. A large, legalised lelong, if you will.
What happens if someone else claims that seized property actually belongs to them?
Sometimes, seized property may belong to parties other than the Debtor. For instance, a third-party may have lent or stored their property at a Debtor’s office or warehouse. If a party (who is not the Debtor) claims that seized property is actually theirs, they will have to file a “Notice of Claim”. If Creditors want to dispute this claim, they must then file an “Interpleader Summons”. Both parties will present their case in Court, and the Court will decide ownership of the contested property.
If Creditors don’t file the Interpleader Summons, the party claiming the property will be allowed to simply reclaim their property.
How is seized property sold?
Creditors can apply for seized items to be auctioned off via the eLitigation system.
Creditors may have to submit a valuation of the seized items to the Bailiff. The Creditor must pay for expenses incurred in valuing the seized items (e.g. engaging an art appraiser to value seized art pieces).
The Bailiff will select an auctioneer to hold the auction, and put up a Notice of Sale. Creditors will have to contact the auctioneer at least 7 days, or 3 weeks (the Bailiff will inform the Creditor of this) before the auction. The Creditor must pay the auctioneer a service fee.
Auctions will usually be held within 3 to 5 weeks after the Notice of Sale is put up.
What happens if Creditors do not hold the auction?
If Creditors choose to not carry out the auction, then the Writ of Seizure will be terminated. The Bailiff will then have the authority to either keep all the seized items, or return them to the Debtor. The Bailiff can return some or all of the items, based on their discretion.
How much does applying for a Writ of Seizure and Sale cost?
The total costs depend on the specific Court that you are applying to.
|Small Claims Tribunal / Employment Tribunal||Magistrate’s Court||State Court|
|Claim amount||Under $20,000 (or $30,000 with the mutual agreement of both parties)||Under $60,000||Under $250,000|
|WSS application fee||$60||$155||$270|
|Undertaking, declaration and indemnity||$10||$10||$10|
|Request for appointment with bailiff to conduct seizure||$10||$50||$100|
|Request to hold auction for seized items||$10||$10||$10|
|Deposit||$300 onwards||$300 onwards||$300 onwards|
|Bailiff fee||$50 onwards||$50 onwards||$50 onwards|
|Bailiff transportation fee, if requested by bailiff||Depends on distance to Debtor’s premises|
|Court commission (for seizure of items)||$50 onwards||$50 onwards||$50 onwards|
|Court commission (for auction)||$50 onwards||$50 onwards||$50 onwards|
|Auctioneer’s service fee||For items worth under $2,000 in total: $150 onwards
For items worth over $2,000 in total: $800 onwards
|Valuation fees||Depends on seized property|
|Locksmith fees (if required for forcible entry)||Market rate (likely $100 onwards)|
|Auxiliary police fees (if required to handle aggressive Debtors)||Market rate|
|Total fees||From $690 onwards||From $795 onwards||From $990 onwards|
Creditors can recoup these expenses through the auction. Hopefully, the auction generates enough revenue for the Creditor to recover both the debt, and the additional expenses for enforcing the judgement.
Creditors should take note of these costs during the examination stage. If the assessment of the value of the Debtor’s property is not significantly higher than these costs, it is perhaps not worth pursuing a Writ of Seizure and Sale.
If the auction sale does not generate sufficient revenue to cover the Bailiff’s expenses in executing the seizure, the Creditor’s deposit (which is $300 or more) will be deducted accordingly.
What are some other methods of enforcing judgements?
Besides a Writ of Seizure and Sale, Singapore law provides for other methods that Creditors can use to make sure Debtors pay their dues. These include:
Allows the Creditor to garnish (i.e. seize) money held in the Debtor’s bank accounts. Joint accounts may also be seized. This can be more useful than a Writ of Seizure and Sale if the Debtor doesn’t have a lot of physical assets to sell off.
If the judgement involves commanding the Debtor to perform, or refrain from, certain acts, but the Debtor does it anyway, the Court can fine and/or jail the Debtor. For instance, a Court may impose a Mareva Order on a Debtor, which is a command for the Debtor to not to sell off any assets, so that Creditors can lay claim to these assets. If the Debtor defies the Order and sells their assets, the Court can punish them. A good example of this is the case of Song Fan Rong, mentioned near the beginning of this guide. Ms. Song was accused of defrauding several Chinese businessmen. She owned 8 kindergartens, and was given a Mareva Order by the Court, which prohibited her from disposing of her assets. She was jailed for 12 months when she tried to sell off her assets secretly, so that her debtors would not be able to reclaim their debts from her.
How can I protect myself from a Writ of Seizure and Sale?
Isn’t it absolutely frightening to think that someone else could seize your property for sale? This is doubly frightening if you run a Sole Proprietorship, because there is no separation of liability between your company and personal assets. Even if you operate a Pte. Ltd., the limitation of liability can be set aside by the Court in specific circumstances (called “piercing the corporate veil”, in legal terminology). When that happens, you become personally liable for your company’s debts. That means your house, car, bank savings, wages, and other personal belongings can be seized.
As a business owner, it’s critical that you take up Professional Indemnity Insurance to protect yourself from ever having to endure a Writ of Seizure and Sale. It is a thoroughly humiliating experience to go through.
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