Airbnb hosts who made illegal short-term home rentals fined $60,000 each

Former property agents Yao Songliang (left) and Terence Tan En Wei had pleaded guilty to four charges earlier in February and on April 3 were fined $15,000 per charge. ST PHOTOS: WONG KWAI CHOW

SINGAPORE - The two men who ran a business providing unauthorised short-term stays in a condominium in the Holland Village area were fined $60,000 each on Tuesday (April 3).

Former property agents Terence Tan En Wei, 35, and Yao Songliang, 34, had pleaded guilty to four charges earlier in February and on Tuesday were fined $15,000 per charge.

This is the first case of prosecution for a breach of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's rules on short-term rentals. Rules making home sharing illegal kicked in on May 15 last year.

In their business, the duo earned at least $19,000 from four listings over five weeks last year.

The prosecution had sought to fine each man $80,000, while the defendants hoped to pay a maximum fine of $20,000 each.

But District Judge Kenneth Choo said the $80,000 fine was too excessive, as the profits of the duo was $19,000.

In deciding on the fine, the judge said there were several aggravating factors, such as the duo's pre-meditation to be a profit-driven enterprise, advertising their d'Leedon condominium units in Farrer Road which they had subletted on portals like Airbnb or Homeaway.

As former real estate agents - their licenses have since been revoked - they also should have known that short-term stays were illegal, he said.

Tan and Yao also took steps to avoid detection, including evading suspicious security guards by bringing their guests to a completely different unit.

But Judge Choo noted that the duo were first-time offenders, who pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity and cooperated fully with the authorities.

Ms Wong Soo Chih, the duo's lawyer, said her clients were satisfied with the outcome. They paid the fine on the spot.

But she wondered, given an upcoming public consultation on home-sharing rules, if her clients had been sentenced prematurely.

"While ignorance of the law is no excuse, to the layman, it sounds like the authorities are open to home-sharing," she said.

The Government has said that a long-awaited consultation paper, that sets out a regulatory framework for short-term accommodation, will be released soon.

In a letter to The Straits Times Forum page on Monday, URA's group director for development control, Ms Goh Chin Chin, said that it would take some time to work through the consultation process and to amend legislation, if necessary.

In the meantime, home-sharing websites should "remind their users to comply with the existing laws" of a minimum stay of three months, she added.

A URA spokesman told The Straits Times that it will continue to investigate any feedback received on illegal short-term accommodation, and work with management corporations and management agents to gather evidence.

"If investigations reveal that illegal short-term accommodation was operated on a commercial scale or involved recalcitrant offenders, URA will proceed with prosecution. An example of such egregious cases is the one in court today," she said.

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