SINGAPORE — For the first time since laws were passed to address short-term rentals via popular websites such as Airbnb, two men were hauled to court on Tuesday (Dec 5) to be charged for illegally leasing housing units for short stays.
Property agents Yao Songliang, 34, and Terence Tan En Wei, 35, each faced four charges under the Planning Act, which forbids the rental of apartments and rooms for a short term.
Some time around May 15, the duo, who have been with property firm Savills Residential since January last year, allegedly worked together to lease four different apartments for a period under six months through Airbnb.
The units are said to be located in three blocks at the D'Leedon condominium along Farrer Road. TODAY understands that the men do not own these units. No other details were available.
Court documents also did not state exactly how long each rental period was or who the tenants were.
Defence counsel Wong Soo Chih said that her clients were ready to plead guilty to their offences, but prosecutor Douglas Neo from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) asked for a six-week adjournment to prepare his submissions.
The men will return to court on Jan 16 next year. If convicted, they could be fined up to S$200,000 per charge.
TODAY understands that the men have been sacked from their jobs and they will not have their agent licences renewed next year.
A check on Tuesday showed that there are seven listings on Airbnb offering D'Leedon apartments for rent.
Private and public homes rented for short-term stays through online platforms such as Airbnb have drawn objections from some homeowners, who say there are safety concerns and that it is a public nuisance.
The URA, which has been reviewing the rules on such leases, received close to 260 complaints about short-term home rentals in the first half of last year.
From 2015 to 2016, there was a 60 per cent increase in such complaints.
In February, Parliament debated and later passed the Planning (Amendment) Bill, making it illegal for homeowners to lease their entire apartments or rooms for less than six months. They may do so only if they have sought permission from the URA.
At the time, National Development Minister Lawrence Wong said that the authorities were mulling an option to create a new category of private homes where short-term rentals are permitted.
In response to the latest news of the two agents being prosecuted, Airbnb said in a statement on Tuesday that it is “strongly committed” to collaborate with the authorities to find ways to allow home-sharing to thrive here.
It said that the present framework for home-sharing here does not reflect how Singaporeans travel or use their homes today, and also “stands in contrast with Singapore’s commitment to innovation”.
The company said that last year, Airbnb drove S$324 million of economic activity in Singapore, and is “continually helping local neighbourhoods benefit from tourist spending that has historically been limited to traditional tourist areas”.
It also said that the average Airbnb host earns S$4,700 a year as a form of extra income in Singapore.
“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,” its spokesperson said.