Sharing economy

Airbnb launches petition calling on Hong Kong government to reconsider tough bill targeting home sharing

  • Accommodation platform says proposed law would risk Hong Kong’s global reputation as a tourism and travel hub
  • The law, backed by the city’s hoteliers, would allow for stiffer penalties against people using their homes for short-term rentals
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 8:07pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 13 November, 2018, 9:00pm

Airbnb has called on Hongkongers to sign an online petition in support of home sharing in a desperate attempt to persuade the city’s government to reconsider a tough amendment bill against illegal short-term rentals and unauthorised guest houses.

The leading home-sharing platform made the appeal on Tuesday as it launched an online petition entitled “Protect Home Sharing in Hong Kong”, which will run until December 31.

Mike Orgill, Airbnb’s public policy director for Asia-Pacific, said the signature campaign aimed to garner public support for urging the government to change its mind over a tougher amendment bill. The Legislative Council held the first bills committee meeting last week to discuss the bill. The feedback will be submitted to legislators and the Home Affairs Department for consideration.

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Orgill said he hoped the company’s campaign can persuade the government to launch a new round of public consultation on home sharing as the bill was based on an outdated consultation in 2014 when home-sharing platforms were still in their early stage of development.

Saying the bill is restrictive, he called for a simplified licensing regime to enable short-term home rentals to develop legally in the city.

“The amendment bill neglects the need to visit a regulatory framework for home sharing, which has grown rapidly in Hong Kong in recent years, generating HK$2.6 billion (US$332 million) in economic activity in 2017,” he said.

It is time for Hongkongers to urge the government to take real action, maintaining the competitiveness of Hong Kong as ‘Asia’s World City
Mike Orgill, Airbnb

“It is time for Hongkongers to urge the government to take real action, maintaining the competitiveness of Hong Kong as ‘Asia’s World City’ and provide opportunities for travellers to experience the true beauty of Hong Kong,” he said.

In the petition, Airbnb said the bill, if passed into law, would “hinder the future development of home sharing in Hong Kong, depriving travellers of the right to enjoy a unique, authentic and local experience.” “Hong Kong residents also lose the opportunity to increase their income by making good use of their extra space. This would risk Hong Kong’s global reputation as a tourism and travel hub,” it said.

Under the Hotel and Guest House Accommodation (Amendment) Bill, the Hotel and Guest House Accommodation Authority would be empowered to crack down on short-term home rentals and unlicensed hotels and guest houses.

A strict liability offence would be used against property owners if there was evidence showing their flats were used for the illegal trade without a statutory defence. Maximum fines for operating unlicensed guest houses would be increased from HK$200,000 to HK$500,000 and imprisonment increased from two years to three years.

Airbnb growth tempts serviced apartments to enter short-stay niche

The authority would also be able to apply for search warrants to gain access to and raid flats suspected of being unlicensed holiday rentals.

Under the current law, premises that offer sleeping accommodation for a fee for a period of less than 28 days must be licensed.

The bill is backed by hoteliers, who have called for tougher sanctions against Airbnb users. Currently about 5,000 people in the city have listed their properties as temporary lodgings on Airbnb. Last year the average rental period of Airbnb lodgings was about 40 nights in Hong Kong. About 600,000 visitors have used Airbnb for accommodation in the city over the past 12 months.