Govt should penalise enablers like Airbnb

While the recent trouble faced by a family from New Zealand over an Airbnb rental and the convictions of two private home owners for renting their apartments out on short-term rentals signal the Government's efforts to clamp down on short-term leases, it exposes a flaw in our overall enforcement and policymaking regime (NZ family's Airbnb woes highlight lack of clarity on listings, March 16; and Illegal short-term sublets netted duo $19,000, Feb 18).

The current enforcement regime places a huge burden on law enforcement and government agencies to enforce the regulations, and penalises individual offenders.

It does not penalise enablers of illegal behaviour - in this instance Airbnb, which is currently still providing the platform to allow home owners to conduct illegal activities in Singapore.

I recently visited the Philippines and witnessed first-hand the successful implementation of a smoking ban in public places, after an executive order was signed by the President.

There is almost no smoking in public areas such as pedestrian walkways and bus stops - something that is happening daily in Singapore despite all the warnings.

Why did our fellow Asean country succeed where our Government failed?

The answer is in how the laws are being drafted.

In the case of the Philippines, the regulations actually hold accountable persons-in-charge who abet in the commission of the office.

For example, if a building allows smokers to smoke in a non-designated smoking area, the building owner will be penalised.

This significantly increases the enforcement of the law and creates and public-private collaboration towards the successful implementation of the ban.

Singapore courts or government agencies can continue to prosecute home owners, but until such time they penalise Airbnb for enabling Singapore home owners in breaking the law, such illegal behaviour will continue.

Christopher Liu Chih Wei

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 20, 2018, with the headline 'Govt should penalise enablers like Airbnb'. Print Edition | Subscribe