Illegal leasing taking place at Marina Bay condominium

An American bank director (in white shirt), who declined to be named, leaving The Sail @ Marina Bay last Tuesday after a one-month stay there. He said his company arranged for the accommodation and he did not know the lease was illegal. -- ST PHOTO:
An American bank director (in white shirt), who declined to be named, leaving The Sail @ Marina Bay last Tuesday after a one-month stay there. He said his company arranged for the accommodation and he did not know the lease was illegal. -- ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Sunday Times team offered contract by website carrying ads for short-term apartment rentals

Two weeks after The Sunday Times reported that the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is investigating the illegal short-term leasing of apartments at The Sail @ Marina Bay, a check has found that such leasing is occurring at the waterfront condominium.

Several websites continue to blatantly carry advertisements of units available for short-term leases at The Sail @ Marina Bay.

The Sunday Times responded to one of the advertisements on Sailatmarinabay.com, with a staff member posing as a foreigner and indicating an interest to rent a one-bedroom apartment from Oct 1 to Oct 31.

In an e-mail reply, a customer service and sales employee quoted an "Executive Deluxe City View" one-bedroom apartment for a discounted price of $7,200 nett a month, and an additional $500 payable for one with a view of the Marina Bay area.

When The Sunday Times team turned up for the viewing on Sept 12, it was shown two units located on levels 14 and 17 of Tower 1, and a third unit on level 16 of Tower 2, which offers a partial view of the Marina Bay area.

A lease agreement was later presented, stating a leasing period of six months starting on Oct 1, even though the team said it was keen to rent it for only a month.

The employee, who went by the name "Ewan", explained that the law requires the lease contract to be for a minimum period of six months. However, he pointed out a clause in the contract giving the option for early termination on Oct 31.

The contract could be terminated after one month, assured Ewan.

A search on the Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority revealed that Sailatmarinabay.com is owned by Bergen Associates Group. Its managing director Peter Leung, a Singapore permanent resident, is a resident and a former management council member of The Sail.

When this reporter later revealed her identity to Mr Leung and questioned him on the short-term lease, he declined to comment.

Under URA's guidelines on leasing and subletting of residential properties, it is illegal to lease such properties for stays of less than six months.

URA has said that if investigations establish that a residential unit is being misused, the person responsible may be fined up to $200,000, imprisoned for a term of up to 12 months, or both.

A URA spokesman told The Sunday Times that URA has received seven complaints over the last couple of weeks and added that "investigations are ongoing" on the unauthorised use of the residential units at The Sail @ Marina Bay.

Last year, one resident, who wanted to be known only as Mr S. K. Cheah, terminated his leasing agreement with Bergens Associates Group after he found out that his apartment was allegedly being subletted, which was not part of the agreement between the two parties.

The 53-year-old investor told The Sunday Times: "I had three different people staying in my apartment in three months. So I decided to do a spot check one night, and I found out that my apartment, which was leased to Bergens Associates for $4,500 a month, was sublet to another company for $8,500 a month.

"I would not let my unit be leased out illegally as a serviced apartment."

But tenants of The Sail @ Marina Bay may not be aware that the apartments have been illegally leased to them on a short-term basis.

The Sunday Times team met an American couple as they were checking out from the condominium last Tuesday. The couple arrived in Singapore last month and had stayed in a one-bedroom apartment on the 47th floor from Aug 19 till then.

The husband, a director in a multinational foreign bank here who declined to be named, was shocked when he was told that it was illegal for the serviced apartment operator to lease the apartment to him for only a month.

He said: "The accommodation was arranged for me by my company. The whole place looked like it was for corporate rental. I didn't know that it was illegal.

"The services provided by Marina Bay Service Residences were excellent. Their staff were very dedicated and helped me with everything including arranging for my transport and booking a tennis court."

In 2010, URA investigated about 1,000 cases of the unauthorised use of private residential properties, which included short-term stays and the unauthorised conversion of private residential properties to workers' dormitories or boarding houses.

By last year, URA saw an 80 per cent rise in the number of such cases to 1,800 cases. In the first seven months of this year, there were about 980 such cases, similar to the number seen in the same period last year, said its spokesman.

URA told The Sunday Times that it has not charged anyone in court for illegal short-term rentals thus far "because home owners typically comply with our requirements to rectify the planning infringements when they are notified".

joycel@sph.com.sg

Additional reporting by Richard Newlove