SINGAPORE: For the past two years, Ms S has celebrated Christmas from various locations around town - once in Orchard, and once in Bugis.
None of these apartments belong to her. Instead, she rented them for herself and her friends for a few days, so their group of 10 to 15 people could comfortably enjoy the party without worrying about making too much noise.
It was through the Airbnb site that she and her friends booked their accommodations in 2018 and 2019.
“We were thinking of having a large space,” said Ms S, who asked for her name not to be used. “Usually we have staycations (in hotels) but they wouldn’t accommodate such a big number (of people). And chalets seem a little overrated.
“The new trend seems to be Airbnb. You just get an apartment if you want to cook, if you want to stay in, if anybody chooses to stay a night. So it’s a lot easier. We all voted to rent out an Airbnb,” she said.
But short-term rentals of less than three months remain illegal in Singapore. In May 2019, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said that it would maintain the three-month minimum stay duration for private residential properties. This was after extensive public consultation since 2015.
In 2019, URA investigated 800 suspected cases of illegal short-term lettings, up from 750 in 2018.
Despite these regulations, listings for short-term rentals in Singapore remain. A check on the Airbnb site showed over 300 listings, many of which do not stipulate any minimum rental period.
When approached, most owners of the listings were aware of URA’s regulations, but assured CNA that there was no problem with their property.
But the key to effective enforcement of short-term rentals is not by targeting the listings, but to investigate suspected cases of short-term letting, said URA.
“The online listings typically do not contain specific information on the property, such as its owner and whether the premises is in fact being rented out and used for short-term accommodation,” said a spokesperson.
The urban planning authority added that it has taken “sterner actions” against perpetrators of illegal short-term accommodations.
Those caught letting their homes for the first time and on a casual basis will be fined up to S$5,000, while repeat offenders and those who rent out short-term accommodation “on a commercial basis” will be prosecuted in court, with URA seeking higher penalties.
“To date, URA has prosecuted 12 offenders in Court for more than 100 charges. For those convicted, the fines ranged from S$13,000 and S$70,000. More cases currently under investigation are expected to be taken to Court,” said the spokesperson.
Property owners are also responsible for offences committed within their property, even if the offence was committed by a tenant, said URA.
“We urge (property owners) to regularly check on their tenants to ensure that they do not use their property for illicit activities.”
URA added that parties “found to have been directly involved in, or abetted the offence” will also be held liable.
ROLE OF MCSTS
Condominium Management Corporation Strata Titles (MCSTs) are crucial in dealing with cases of short-term accommodation, said URA.
They “play an important role in tightening their security checks and reporting suspected short-term accommodation activities promptly to us for investigation”, said the spokesperson.
“We seek to partner more MCSTs going forward.”
But condominium management staff are very much reliant on residents’ feedback to monitor cases of illegal short-term rentals, MCSTs told CNA.
“The precaution is only to remind them that (leasing short-term accommodation) will contravene the Act. There’s no way we can control it, because there’s no security guard onsite due to budgeting issues. So we rely very much on the feedback and the owner’s social responsibility and awareness,” said Smart Suites managing agent Alson Mak.
Mr Royston Tan, Strata Residential Manager of Avila Gardens, said that the MCST “does not specifically monitor” any potential cases of short-term rentals.
But the management has passed by-laws which stipulate that all owners have to comply with URA’s regulations, and the MCST has instructed security guards to check and register all visitors, he said.
As for tenants, it is the owners’ responsibility to include provisions in the tenancy agreement, said Mr Mak.
When the MCSTs receive complaints from residents on suspected cases of short-term accommodation, the management will first write to the owner, said Mr Mak. Only recalcitrant renters will be reported to the authorities.
He added that the MCST has put up the number of the URA hotline on the notice board, which residents may refer to.
But even then, short-term accommodations may be difficult to eradicate.
Mr Mak said that for some cases, the renter may stop for a period of time before starting again, to avoid detection.
As for Ms S, she said that she would continue to rent an Airbnb in Singapore, despite being aware of URA’s regulations.
“I think a lot of it boils down to why we chose an Airbnb over other things,” she said.
“We could have had a hotel that catered to a larger number of people, but then again we’ve had staycations where people also come and tell us to keep our volumes down. And we’ve also had occasions where it’s really expensive, a lot more expensive than an Airbnb …
“And it’s just a lot more comfortable in an apartment where you have a kitchenette, toilets and living space where you can - it’s like simulating a house party.”