Parliament: Short term home rental illegal under new law

Public and private housing near Toa Payoh Lorong 7. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Private apartment owners who rent out their apartments or rooms on a short-term basis on websites like Airbnb may soon be flouting the law.

Parliament passed a new law on Monday which makes it illegal for such home owners to rent out entire apartments and rooms for less than six months, unless they have permission from the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) to do so.

But the URA is studying the option of creating a new category of private homes that will be allowed for short-term rentals, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong on Monday at the debate on the Planning (Amendment) Bill in Parliament.

If created, the new category can apply to existing properties, as well as new residential sites that may be designated specifically for the building of short-term rental properties.

The new law will also limit the number of unrelated tenants in private apartments to six, down from the currently allowed eight. Apartments that are rented to more than six unrelated tenants will be treated as dormitories and would require URA's approval.

"Private residential properties should not be used for other purposes without planning approval, as there is a need to safeguard the living environment of residents in the neighbourhood," said Mr Wong.

The changes to the law come on the back of growing complaints regarding short-term rentals last year. The URA received 608 complaints in 2016, 61 per cent more than the 377 complaints in 2015.

The new law will allow the URA to "make sure that the issue does not worsen further", Mr Wong said.

Still, the minister noted that the government is not shutting its doors on short-term home rentals. Besides the new category of private homes that can be rented out like service apartments, the URA is considering allowing shorter rental periods. Currently, the minimum rental period is set at six months.

Besides tightening the law on private residential properties, the new law also grants URA powers to impose conditions on developers aimed at making new buildings more livable and friendlier to pedestrians through the provision of public spaces and covered walkways.

These features account for only a small component of development costs and will not reduce the development potential of sites because they are excluded from overall floor area, said Mr Wong.

URA officers will also get more powers to investigate breaches of planning regulations, including summoning witnesses for interviews and entering premises for inspections.

The punishment for those who set up unauthorised dormitories was also enhanced to include a jail term, while the maximum fine for those who tear down conserved buildings, both partially or fully, was increased from $200,000 to $500,000.

The new law also holds property owners responsible for unauthorised works by their tenants or contractors, unless they can show that they have taken precautions to prevent them.

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