Two Airbnb hosts fined $60k each for illegal rentals

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.
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 PHOTO: WONG KWAI CHOW
At the d'Leedon condominium in Farrer Road, the two hosts would at first take their guests to a different unit to evade suspicious security guards.
At the d'Leedon condominium in Farrer Road, the two hosts would at first take their guests to a different unit to evade suspicious security guards.ST FILE PHOTO

The former property agents earned at least $19,000 from four listings of their units in a Bukit Timah condo

Two men who provided Airbnb-style accommodation in a Bukit Timah condominium were each fined $60,000 yesterday - the first prosecutions under a new rule outlawing short-term rentals.

Former property agents Terence Tan En Wei, 35, and Yao Songliang, 34, admitted four charges in February and were fined $15,000 on each count.

This was the first case of prosecution for a breach of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's (URA) rules on short-term rentals that kicked in on May 15 last year.

The men earned at least $19,000 from four listings of their units at d'Leedon near Farrer Road 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.

District Judge Kenneth Choo said that while a $80,000 fine was too excessive, there were several aggravating factors. The men were motivated by profit when they rented out these units on home-sharing portals like Airbnb and Homeaway.

They set up several companies that were used to rent out the four units for short-term stays.

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

The men have had their licences revoked.

Tan and Yao also took steps to avoid detection, including taking their guests to a completely different unit to evade suspicious security guards. After the guards had left, the guests were led to the correct 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 yesterday.

But Ms Wong noted that her clients could have been sentenced prematurely, given an upcoming public consultation on home-sharing rules. "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.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 04, 2018, with the headline 'Two Airbnb hosts fined $60k each for illegal rentals'. Print Edition | Subscribe