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Two Singapore property agents plead guilty to illegal Airbnb rentals

Offering short stays in private homes is illegal in Singapore

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 2:40pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 27 February, 2018, 2:40pm

Two Singaporean men pleaded guilty Tuesday to letting out flats on Airbnb without official permission, the first such case in the city state under new rules against short-term rentals.

Housing is a sensitive issue in rich but land-starved Singapore where more than 80 per cent of the population lives in government-subsidised flats.

Terence Tan En Wei, 35, and Yao Song Liang, 34, pleaded guilty in court to four charges of illegally renting out four flats in a luxury private block in central Singapore.

Prosecutors said the pair, who were property agents, had listed the flats on Airbnb, which allows homeowners to share their homes for a fee by marketing them online, and other holiday rental sites.

The duo made S$19,000 (US$14,500) from renting the flats between May 15 and June 21 last year, prosecutors said.

They will be sentenced in April. Deputy public prosecutor Selene Yap called for them to be fined S$80,000 each.

The pair were charged under regulations introduced last May banning homeowners from leasing property for less than three months without approval from authorities.

When the men were first charged, an Airbnb spokesman said rules in the city state do not reflect how Singaporeans use their homes and travel, and the company hoped to work with local authorities to find a way forward.

Airbnb has become a popular and often cheaper alternative to hotels for many travellers.

But the company has faced mounting criticism that it worsens housing shortages and squeezes the long-term rental sector, with cities including New York, Miami and Berlin cracking down on the service.

In Hong Kong, anyone taking in guests for fewer than 28 days has to have a permit to ensure that the premises meet guest-house standards and are safe to use.

In central Paris, rentals are limited to 120 days a year and flats must be registered with city authorities. A similar limit applies in London.

“For us, we feel that every person should have the right to share their own private residence. We don’t think that anyone should be criminalised for sharing their home,” said Mich Goh, Airbnb’s head of public policy for Southeast Asia.

Goh said the company was looking forward to a public consultation on short-term rentals in Singapore, set to take place in the next few months.

Additional reporting by Associated Press