Airbnb needs to act responsibly to be taken seriously

Airbnb's call to all Singaporeans to keep the doors open to home-sharing when it continues to undermine our laws and views on the matter is regressively solipsistic (Airbnb study says non-tourist areas gain from listings; June 16).

Can the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) explain why the company and its hosts have not been taken to task - in view of its latest admission of nefarious activity in a self-serving study - the way two real estate agents were prosecuted a few months ago (Two Airbnb hosts fined $60k each for illegal rentals; April 4)?

Can Airbnb share how many of its hosts are in fact tenants acting in bad faith against the anti-subletting clauses in their leasing agreement, and in contravention of Singapore's home rental rules?

If Airbnb wants to be taken seriously as an industry player, it is time for it to behave like a responsible one.

Whether home-sharing can bring tourism receipts to non-tourist neighbourhoods is really moot - other hospitality businesses in similar locations can do the same.

But such outcomes are certainly a bane to those who oppose the invasion of their condominium's privacy by a high turnover of strangers. And they have every right to feel aggrieved.

After all, their private estates - and the operative word here is "private" - do not exist for Airbnb to conduct feasibility studies and soup up its relevance, but as a sanctuary for them to live in quiet comfort.

In fact, Airbnb should be more concerned about its own bottom line than expressing concern for its property-owning hosts, who can easily list their assets in the long-term leasing market.

Short-term rentals should be restricted to only a specific type of mixed development in certain precincts in Singapore, and regulated under the strictest regime of control and compliance according to the highest standards of hospitality, probity and corporate social responsibility.

Based on the proliferation of the industry's transgressions over the last six years, URA and the likes of Airbnb do not inspire any confidence just yet.

Toh Cheng Seong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 21, 2018, with the headline 'Airbnb needs to act responsibly to be taken seriously'. Print Edition | Subscribe