SINGAPORE: The use of private property for accommodation of less than six months was legislated as illegal in Singapore on Monday (Feb 6), making it unlawful for owners to rent out their homes via online homestay networks such as Airbnb and Roomorama.
Such short-term rentals of private property were already prohibited under guidelines by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) and those who flout the rules face up S$200,000 fine or jail for up to a year if a private residence is rented or sublet for less than six months. The same penalties will apply going forward.
“Private residential properties should not be used for other purposes without planning approval, as there is a need to safeguard the living environment of residents in the neighbourhood,” Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong told Parliament.
He said URA had consulted Neighbourhood Committees and managing agents of private residential developments on the matter back in 2015, and found strong endorsement of the need to preserve the privacy and sanctity valued by the vast majority of homeowners.
“Over the past year, URA has already seen a 60 per cent rise in complaints from home-owners about breaches of this rule in their residential properties. The complaints related to public nuisance or even safety concerns for their families,” revealed Mr Wong. “So we must enforce the current rules, and make sure the issue does not worsen further.”
He noted that advertising on home-sharing or rental websites in itself was not an offence nor regulated, but URA will work with managing bodies of private properties listed online to notify residents of the rules.
“If the short-term rentals persist and cause disamenities for other homeowners, then URA will step in,” said Mr Wong.
He also announced that URA will now have enhanced powers to investigate suspected infringements. If officers believe a person might have knowledge of a violation, they can ask the person to attend interviews and question them.
Apart from verbally examining witnesses and recording statements, URA officers will also be able to require the production of information or documents relevant to the violation, and to take video evidence on site.
Where necessary, officers will be able to effect forced entry to carry out their investigation.
POTENTIAL TO REDUCE TIMEFRAME, CREATE NEW CLASS OF RESIDENCES
The minister also said, however, that the six-month period was an adjustable parameter. “URA had received feedback from a number of respondents … that there was scope to reduce the minimum period,” said Mr Wong. “So URA is studying this carefully, and will consider a possible reduction in the minimum rental time-frame."
“But whatever adjustments we may make to this minimum period, it is clear that we will not accommodate residential homes that are put up for daily rental,” he said. “Such premises which are rented out daily ought to be regulated more like hotels rather than residential homes and should be subject to relevant license and conditions to ensure proper standards.”
“Many cities in Asia and around the world are also regulating short-term home-sharing platforms in a similar way to hotels.”
Mr Wong said URA was thus studying the option of creating a new use category for private residences whose owners wish to engage in short-term rentals.
He explained: "Such properties would then be approved for that specific purpose, like service apartments or hotels today. New residential sites can be sold with such an approved use, allowing flexibility for short-term rentals.
“For existing residential buildings, they would then require planning permission for change of use, and this would be subject to a set of guidelines which URA is looking into.”
Under Housing and Development Board rules, the minimum subletting period for a flat is six months as well.