URA needs more time to study short-term stays issue

'No clear consensus' in public consultation on such stays in private residential properties, it says

People look out from the observation tower of the Marina Bay Sands amongst public and private residential apartment buildings in Singapore. PHOTO: REUTERS

After holding a public consultation on short-term rentals last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said yesterday that it needs more time to review the issue.

Results of the consultation, held from January to April last year, were "split, with no clear consensus", the URA revealed.

"This issue on short-term stays is complex, multi-faceted, has wide- ranging implications and it warrants a careful and balanced review," it said, adding that it "needs more time to study the issue".

Last year, the authority conducted the consultation to assess whether there is a need to review the policy on short-term rentals in private residential properties.

It is illegal to lease a home for less than six months in Singapore. Private home offenders can be fined up to $200,000 and jailed for up to a year. Despite this, listings for short-term rentals have sprung up on home-sharing websites like Airbnb, PandaBed and Roomorama.

The consultation came in two forms. The first was an online survey open to the public, which ran from January to February and had about 2,000 respondents.

Discussions were also held with close to 100 stakeholders, including home-sharing portals, hotel and serviced apartment representatives, neighbourhood committees of private housing estates and condominium management corporations.

The URA said that while participants acknowledged the need to accommodate the demand for short- term home sharing, there was also "strong endorsement" of existing controls on subletting.

These controls are intended to "preserve the privacy and sanctity valued by the vast majority of home owners", it added.

Noting that hotel and serviced apartment operators are subject to business taxes and requirements to ensure the safety and well-being of their occupants, the URA said: "There was important feedback that any change in rules should ensure a level playing field."

It stressed that while the review is ongoing, the six-month rule still stands and enforcement will be taken against misuse.

In 2013, 2014 and 2015, the URA received 231, 375 and 377 complaints on short-term stays respectively. From January to April this year, there were 161 complaints.

A spokesman for Airbnb said: "We are disappointed that after more than a year since URA concluded its public consultation, there has not been a revision to URA's guidelines. We encourage Singapore to adopt fair and progressive rules to allow regular people to share their homes."

PandaBed chief executive James Chua, 36, hopes that any change in regulation will consider the interests of all parties involved. "There are tourists who find home-sharing a bona fide better alternative to hotel rooms," he said. "The regulations need to take into account what the Internet brings to the market."

Singapore Hotel Association executive director Margaret Heng said the consultation results indicate that there is concern relating to short-term rentals, especially in the areas of safety and security.

"The hotel industry shares the same concern as these two factors are critical for the continued growth of the tourism industry in Singapore," said Ms Heng.

A 43-year-old business owner, who wanted to be known only as Ms Chew, said the condominium unit next to hers has been used for short-term stays for a few years.

"This did not bother us until my daughter's bicycle was stolen from outside our house in January.

"I am not against short-term rentals but landlords should put in place adequate checks and balances, like making sure visitors are registered. I have three young kids in the house and am worried for their safety."

Freelance property broker Alex Poh, 62, said short-term rentals could be regulated "like Grab and Uber", referring to the ride booking apps. He said: "It'll boost tourism and be good for our economy."

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 19, 2016, with the headline URA needs more time to study short-term stays issue. Subscribe