SINGAPORE: In the first such prosecution in Singapore, two men were charged on Tuesday (Dec 5) for allegedly renting out four condominium units for short-term accommodation via online homestay network Airbnb.
The minimum rental period for private homes here is three months, meaning typical short-term lettings on platforms like Airbnb are prohibited under rules by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA).
Terence Tan En Wei, 35, and Yao Song Liang, 34, face four charges each under the Planning Act.
Both are expected to plead guilty to the charges in January.
They are accused of letting out the units situated in three different blocks at D’leedon Condominium at 9 Leedon Heights in the Farrer Road area.
The premises “was occupied by the same person(s) for a period of less than six consecutive months in return for the payment of rent,” in breach of regulations, court documents stated.
URA prosecutor Douglas Neo sought a six-week adjournment to file submissions, seeing as it is the first case of its kind to be prosecuted here.
The men are represented by Ms Wong Soo Chih.
Between 2014 and 2016, URA investigated more than 1,000 private residential properties for breaching the minimum stay duration. This equates to an average of about 330 properties a year.
In contrast, URA has already investigated about 600 properties from January to September this year, almost double the number investigated for each of the past few years.
Under the Planning Act, it is an offence to convert the use of a property for short-term accommodation without URA’s approval.
First offenders may be fined up to S$200,000, and in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine of up to S$10,000 for every day or part of a day during which the offence continues after conviction.
A URA spokesperson said the authority will take enforcement against anyone found responsible for letting out property for short-term accommodation. This may include the home owner, tenant or any intermediaries such as property agents.
"We will not hesitate to prosecute recalcitrant offenders and those who blatantly disregard the regulations," added the spokesperson.
CURRENT LAWS CONTRAST WITH SINGAPORE'S COMMITMENT TO INNOVATION: AIRBNB
In response to queries from Channel NewsAsia regarding the prosecution of the two men, Airbnb said the current framework for home sharing in Singapore "doesn’t reflect how Singaporeans travel or use their homes today" and "stands in contrast" with the nation's commitment to innovation.
It added that its platform helps Singaporeans earn supplemental income, with the average host earning S$4,700 per year.
On a larger scale, the company said, Airbnb also contributes to the local economy, helping to drive S$324 million of economic activity in Singapore in 2016.
"We have collaborated with authorities around the world, developing clear and sensible frameworks that allow home sharing to thrive, while addressing each city’s unique challenges and concerns. We remain strongly committed to doing the same here in Singapore, working alongside the government to find a way forward for home sharing, both to Singapore’s immediate and long-term benefit,” it added.