People looking to rent out their private homes will be able to do so for shorter periods, following a rule change that takes immediate effect.
The minimum duration for staying in a private home has been lowered from six months to three months, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said yesterday.
Short stays of less than three consecutive months, such as those facilitated through online home-sharing platforms like Airbnb and PandaBed, are still not allowed.
The minimum stay of six months was put in place in 2009. This requirement was to "ensure that residents are not adversely affected by the frequent turnover of transient occupiers on short-term stays", said URA in 2015, during a public consultation exercise.
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The rule change comes amid growing demand from groups seeking accommodation for three to six months, such as academics and students visiting institutions, as well as professionals on work assignments.
URA said the groups had given feedback that they preferred staying in private homes to staying at hotels or serviced apartments, as the former offer a wider range of locations and unit sizes, and cost less.
The public consultation exercise in 2015 also showed that a majority of the respondents supported a shorter minimum stay period.
Maximum fine if private home owners flout the new rule
URA said: "It is important that we preserve the residential character of private housing estates. URA has assessed that a minimum stay duration of three months is an appropriate limit which is not expected to cause any significant impact on residential communities."
Private home owners who flout the new rule can be fined up to $200,000.
Industry players welcomed the change, saying it would give landlords and tenants greater flexibility in making lease arrangements.
Said Ms Anne Lehman, who co-founded LMB Housing Services, which offers serviced apartments mostly to foreign working professionals: "It's a step in the right direction. We've had to turn down 25 per cent of the clients who want our services as they did not want to stay for more than six months. The new rule would make our housing solutions accessible to this group too."
But some experts said the new rule would have little impact on the sluggish rental market. Said PropNex Realty chief Ismail Gafoor: "Most landlords will still prefer a long-term lease because of the security of rental income and the ability to avoid the inconvenience of frequently scouting for new tenants."
Mr Nicholas Mak, who is head of research and consultancy at real estate firm ZACD Group, agreed. "Property agents would be less keen to serve tenants seeking such short-term leases as the amount of work and effort needed to find and introduce a three-month tenant and a two-year tenant to a property is about the same, while the financial reward from a two-year tenancy is higher," he said.
Also, he added, some landlords had already been illegally leasing out their homes for stays of shorter than six months - including those facilitated by Airbnb - before the new rule was announced.
Meanwhile, URA is reviewing possible guidelines to facilitate short-term rentals, and plans to conduct a public consultation on this issue. More details will be given later.