Regulation on home-sharing must put residents' needs at its heart

I am appalled that companies like Airbnb seem incapable of adapting to the socio-economic norms of Singapore's housing market ("URA needs more time to look at short-term rentals"; last Thursday).

A quick check of Airbnb's Singapore website shows many apartments minus the hosts who, the company claims, are supposed to help tourists better understand our local culture.

Some Airbnb-listed properties in other countries were reportedly used for crime and debauchery. These could well occur here, given a rather laissez-faire vetting and compliance process across its transaction chain.

Up till now, I have read nothing but hyperbole about the benefits of home-sharing.

Advocates seem to have overlooked the fact that the ramifications of "sharing" a home are significantly more complex and wide-ranging than renting a car.

There has not been a word about the range of costs and disamenities to the vast majority of home owners who treat their estate as a private abode and not a public hotel. There is also a reported paucity of assistance given to hosts and guests in distressed situations.

Unlike households in most other cities, a majority of households here own their homes. They do not want their privacy and hard-earned assets to be blemished by high tourist traffic.

Any regulation on home-sharing must put the needs and priorities of these residents at its heart.

With the heightened sense of security across the world, Singapore should allow short-term rentals only at professionally managed properties, such as condo-hotels and state-owned assets. All owners of such properties must be licensed and taxed for their business activity at commercial rates, as well as made to commit to upholding industry standards of hospitality.

Such focused segmentation will make it easier for the Urban Redevelopment Authority and Hotels Licensing Board to regulate the sector, including punishing those who wilfully defy the rules and facilitate and abet illegal activity.

Short-term rentals should be practised here only the Singaporean way.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 24, 2016, with the headline 'Regulation on home-sharing must put residents' needs at its heart'. Print Edition | Subscribe