Most of us are familiar with AirBnB, if only by reputation alone. The home-sharing site allows users to rent out rooms or even entire apartments and houses to those willing to pay up. This may mean that you have the owner as a room-mate or that you strike lucky and have the entire home to yourself. Prices are generally lower than hotels and you get to stay in relative comfort. Couple this with some local knowledge imparted by your landlord and it sounds great, right? However, AirBnB has come under fire in Singapore recently and amid claims that this type of renting is illegal, we ask ‘what exactly is the problem with AirBnB?’
Illegal breaches and overstaying
The first legal issue that rears it’s ugly head is that of guests overstaying their welcome.
AirBnB should not technically be used in place of renting an apartment for the long-term, but that is invariably what happens. Hundreds of properties were investigated over the last couple of years and in 2017, over 600 were looked into by the URA (Urban Redevelopment Authority). In Singapore, the minimum rental period for private residences is three months. So if you are staying in someone’s home for a couple of weeks, it is technically illegal. This rule is designed to protect rental agencies and also the residents of Singapore. Interestingly, the URA relies on testimony from neighbours and residents in order to investigate the misuse of private properties. Rental agencies are also weighing in on the situation and routinely report on illegal lets and sublets.
The position of leasers and leasees
So, what are the consequences of illegally letting a home for short-term leases? Firstly, without URA approval, landlords can face a fine of up to S$200, 000 and a prison sentence. This could reach a maximum of 12 months.You would be forgiven for thinking this sounds pretty serious. What about the people renting the accommodation? Many tourists have backed out of AirBnB agreements due to fears that the long arm of the law will reach them and they will wind up in trouble with the Singaporean authorities. However, on paper, it is the owner of the home who is responsible for the use of the property. That is not to say that the tenants will get off scot-free. The URA is adamant that if they are found complicit, they can face investigation too. However, is this simply an empty threat? So far, there have been no recorded cases of tenants being investigated by the authorities for using AirBnB. Bearing in mind how important tourism is to the economy of Singapore, the agencies involved are cautious not to cause too much upset amongst the tourism community.
Where do we go from here?
In order to avoid the worry and potential criminal investigation that may result from listing your home on AirBnB, the government of Singapore has agreed to look at changing some conditions regarding the use of private homes for short-term lets. However, little real progress has been made to date with both the URA and AirBnB calling for clearer guidelines and new policies to adapt to the changing nature of rentals. Despite this, some leeway has been made in terms of neighbour relations and rental transparency. AirBnB’s public policy for Southeast Asia has implemented a ‘friendly buildings’ policy, which informs building managament about AirBnB bookings in that block. This means that the administration of these buildings can take some of the profits earned from AirBnB bookings. Neighbours can also get in touch with the site directly to complain about guests, in the case of parties, loud noise, antisocial behaviour or illegal activity.
The future of AirBnB in Singapore
Until the law is changed, it looks like business as usual. Many home-owners who advertise their property on the site have not taken down listings and are accepting bookings, despite the threat of investigation. Yet, it is impossible to escape the fact that according to Singaporean law, short-term rentals are illegal. Vocal advocates of AirBnB have complained that the law needs to change with the times and the value of AirBnB should be recognised. By facilitating tourism and providing cheap accommodation to tourists, these types of rentals are kickstarting the economy. It may sound brash, but it is clear that there is a need for real change. It may not be certain of when that will be or what form it will take, but it is necessary.