When co-founder of property listings website 99.co Darius Cheung and his pregnant wife Roshni Mahtani, both Singaporeans, were apartment hunting in 2015, more than 20 percent of their inquiries were rejected upfront because of Mahtani's Indian origins, Cheung said. Ultimately, he said, they ended up paying a 15 percent premium in a falling rental market because of their limited negotiation power.
Upon moving to the Lion City in 2010, Indian national Alankar Lodha was regularly required to state his race during rental inquiries, he said. But despite an international education, the 29-year-old said he was often rejected because he was told the landlord did not want Indian occupants.
When contacted, state entities said they didn't have a clear mandate to cover the issue.
The Urban Redevelopment Authority, the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) and the Presidential Council for Minority Rights told CNBC their respective regulatory frameworks didn't include discrimination conflicts between landlords and lodgers. The CEA did say, however, that it has produced guidelines on listings, investigated racist advertising complaints and urged the public not to condone discrimination.
"In advertising properties for sale, purchase or rental, salespersons should be sensitive to the diverse, multi-racial and multi-cultural nature of society and advise their clients against placing advertisements that are discriminatory, offensive or stereotyped in nature against any particular race, religion or group in society," the CEA said in a set of guidelines.
Still, those governmental calls for ethnic equality have not eradicated the practice.
Eric Foenander and his two friends are Singaporeans of Malay origin, but 33-year-old Foenander said they were treated like "second-class citizens" during an apartment hunt last year. The trio, he claimed, were rejected for an apartment owned by Far East Organization, one of Singapore's largest developers, despite agreeing to the company's high terms: Five months of advance rent that amounted to nearly S$20,000 ($14, 200) and monthly unit checks.
"Our agent hinted at the idea that the rejection might have been because our non-Chinese roots did not sit well with the elderly Chinese landlords," Foenander said.
In response, Far East told CNBC that its leasing decisions were based on commercial considerations, not discriminatory practices. When presented with Foenander's account, Far East said it could neither confirm nor deny the claims.