Ex-property agent fined record $1.16m for illegally subletting private homes on Airbnb, HomeAway

Simon Chan Chai Wan had illegally rented residential properties such as Caribbean at Keppel Bay (pictured). PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A 57-year-old man was fined a record $1,158,000 on Monday (May 30) for offences related to unauthorised short-term accommodation.

Simon Chan Chai Wan had illegally provided short-term rents in 14 private residential properties to local and foreign guests through platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway.

His accomplice, Zhao Jing, 43, was fined $84,000 for aiding him in carrying out the offences.

The properties included units in International Plaza, Robinson Suites, Claremont, Centrepoint Apartments, The Abode at Devonshire and Caribbean at Keppel Bay.

Zhao and Chan, who are a couple, were licensed real estate agents at the time of the offences, court documents said.

They were the directors of two companies, HTM Solutions and HTM Management, and Chan is the former director of SNS Infotech Global.

Chan would enter into tenancy agreements with the units' owners using the three companies as corporate vehicles, and sublet the units for short-term accommodations on the platforms.

Chan had persuaded Zhao to be the sole tenant for two of the units. She also helped Chan to illegally sublet two other units.

From June 30, 2017, to July 2018, Chan's total revenue was $1,254,907.78.

He paid Zhao a monthly salary of $4,000 for helping him. Zhao would have received $52,000 for the period of the offences.

If they are unable to pay the fine, Chan would have to serve a jail term of 95 weeks, and 12 weeks for Zhao.

In a statement on Monday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said all private residential properties rented out for accommodation are subject to a minimum stay of three consecutive months.

"Property owners should also exercise due diligence to ensure that their properties are not used by their tenants for unauthorised purposes," it said.

"Unauthorised short-term accommodation with frequent turnover of transient guests not only changes the residential character of a property, but also causes dis-amenities to neighbouring residents."

Simon Chan Chai Wan paid his accomplice Zhao Jing a monthly salary of $4,000 for helping him. PHOTOS: SGP BUSINESS

In one of the cases, Cisco officers inspected a unit in International Plaza on April 26, 2018, and found that an Australian man and his family were living in it for two nights.

The man had secured a short-term agreement from Chan by making a booking on Airbnb for A$811.27 (S$795).

Investigations showed that Chan had used HTM Solutions to lease the unit from its owner at $4,200 a month from March 2018 to March 2019.

The tenancy agreement specified that only authorised occupants listed are permitted to occupy the unit, and that the tenant is not allowed to sublet the unit without the landlord’s written consent.

Zhao, as the representative of HTM Solutions, had signed the tenancy agreement.

Chan, acting as Zhao’s agent, told the owner’s husband that Zhao and her child would be the occupants of the unit. Zhao never had the intention of residing there, court documents said.

Chan illegally sublet the unit from March to July 2018.

In another incident on May 18, 2018, Cisco officers found that a man had booked a unit at Centrepoint Apartments from Chan on Airbnb for $442.78 for two nights.

Investigations showed that Chan persuaded Zhao to lease the apartment from the owner for $3,300 a month from March 2018 to February 2019.

The unit was illegally sublet from March to July 2018.

When asked if any action will be taken against property owners, the URA spokesman referred to its website, which said property owners who fail to exercise due diligence to safeguard their properties against misuse will be held responsible.

“Owners are also urged to regularly check on their properties to ensure that they are not rented out by tenants for short-term accommodation,” the website said.

Zhao’s mother, who wanted to be known only as Madam Lee, 66, said she was shocked by the fine amount.

Speaking to The Straits Times in their Hougang flat, where she lives with Chan, Zhao and their four-year-old daughter, the housewife said in Mandarin: “I didn’t know what was going on. I told them they could sell the house, but they said it wouldn’t be enough.”

Madam Lee said the couple, who were together for about 10 years, often had arguments about money.

“They quarrelled about debts, but I’m not sure what kind of debts,” she said.

After Chan and Zhao stopped being real estate agents, they struggled to provide for the family, Madam Lee said.

“Simon teaches some online classes, and I’m not sure what my daughter does now, but it was tough the past few years,” she added.

“I didn’t know the amount would be so large. How are we going to move on from this?”

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