Channel NewsAsia

Singapore's sharing economy is on the rise

However, observers say the emerging sector has run into some legal snags, while businesses band together to navigate regulatory grey areas.

SINGAPORE: Do you have a spare tennis racket or power drill lying around the house? You can turn a profit from these under-used possessions by renting them out to strangers who need them. Such services are part of the sharing economy, which is growing quickly in Singapore.

Rent Tycoons is the sector’s first such portal in Singapore, and it helps to match owners with renters. In less than two years, some 2,000 owners have signed up. The platform "allows anybody to share whatever that is within their homes, making it possible to share these resources with not just your friends and family, but also with strangers and your neighbours", said co-founder Fenni Wang.

Besides personal assets, services like transport and holiday accommodation can also be made available for sharing. This idea of collaborative consumption allows individuals to buy from and sell to one another directly, saving resources and bypassing big companies.

But observers say this emerging sector has run into some regulatory snags. Said R Raghunathan, management consulting partner at PwC SEA Consulting (Singapore): "There are existing rules and regulations in place, and the key question is how do you strike the right balance between encouraging new business models versus protecting those who are already heavily invested in their existing business?"

Earlier this year, two home-owners had their flats confiscated by the Housing and Development Board (HDB) because they had broken public-housing rules by renting their units to tourists. In Singapore, short-term rentals of HDB units are against the law. But for private properties, the six-month minimum rental period is a guideline from the Urban Redevelopment Authority, rather than a law.

In order to better engage policymakers and navigate regulatory grey areas, some businesses banded to form the Sharing Economy Association of Singapore some two months ago. The Sharing Economy Association of Singapore now counts over six companies as members, including Rent Tycoons and vacation rental sites like Airbnb and PandaBed.

"The sharing economy is relatively new in Singapore. So there are not many legal firms that are representing the businesses right now,” said Lester Kang, founding member of the Sharing Economy Association of Singapore and co-founder of PandaBed. “But the association and our members are actually constantly engaging the regulatory authorities and we predict that it will take some time for them to fully comprehend the impact it has on the society in Singapore."

Reflecting the sharing economy's demand for legal counsel, transportation network Uber is hiring a government relations manager for South Asia who will be based in Singapore, while Airbnb has hired former Nominated Member of Parliament Siew Kum Hong as its associate general counsel for the Asia Pacific region. He was formerly the general counsel for Yahoo! Southeast Asia.

The association says that the users of such sharing economy services in Singapore have more than doubled over the past year, to about 35,000, and those in sector believe that as consumer preferences change, regulations may become more favourable. 

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