Some genius inventions are so deceptively simple that you keep kicking yourself and wondering why you didn’t think of it first. Like the alarm clock that runs away from you so you’re forced to get out of bed. Or Bluetooth keyboards and speakers. Or Airbnb, an online home and room-renting service that matches hosts and guests, allowing travellers to stay in places other than hotels.
Imagine living in the cosiness of another person’s house for the same price of a cramped hotel suite or a bunk bed in a large hostel room. But the Singapore government has not allowed HDB flat owners to sublet their homes to tourists for short-term stays.
Technically, subletting your home in itself is not illegal…
… as long as you live in private property. As it turns out, the six month “minimum period” is really just a guideline from URA. For HDB flats, however, it is a regulation and you run the risk of being evicted from your flat if you are caught, as the residents of two flats found out last year.
It was reportedly the neighbours who had complained to HDB about the loud noises and “suspicious characters” that were supposedly moving in and out of one of the flats, before it was confiscated. Needless to say, if your guests are going to treat your home like a hotel, don’t expect to keep your home for long.
The threat of eviction doesn’t seem to have deterred potential hosts from putting up listings on Airbnb, though. A quick search still brings up hundreds of listings, both public and private housing. So should HDB allow flat owners to rent out their homes on sites like Airbnb? Let’s look at some arguments for and against.
1. Airbnb can be a substantial secondary source of income
Opening your home to tourists for short-term stays can be an excellent source of income. Make a private room available, and you can earn about $80 from each guest per night, depending on the amenities you’re willing to provide, of course.
Even if you don’t get a steady stream of guests, it wouldn’t be impossible to earn at least $1,200 a month, just from a single room. This is equivalent to getting a single long-term occupant. That’s a great way to monetise your home, especially if you have an empty room that’s being underutilised.
2. Airbnb can also be a great opportunity to meet new people
Tourists who use Airbnb are clearly looking for a different kind of travel experience. Chances are, they have an adventurous streak, are willing to try new things and are looking for a more “authentic” experience in Singapore. If that’s the kind of people you enjoy meeting, then playing host would definitely have benefits that go beyond the financial gain.
3. However, that’s not to say that every Airbnb guest is going to be nice
The Internet is full of horror stories of guests who ruin a home by their inconsiderate behaviour and entitled mentality. When it comes to HDB flats, where a flooded room or a clogged toilet pipe is an inconvenience not only to you but those who live beneath you, it just takes a single Airbnb guest from hell to make you into public enemy number one.
Take it from a guy who’s lived with a bunch of men in a house before – some people really have terrible living habits and your HDB flat is probably not designed to handle it.
4. Your guests may end up alienating your neighbours
Even if you’re okay with the poor behaviour of your guests, you’re not the only one affected by them.
As the evicted owners of the two HDB flats discovered, your neighbours can either be your greatest ally or your worst enemies to your Airbnb hosting experience. If your guests are a nuisance, either because they’re party animals or get into a loud argument, or if the constant movement in and out of your apartment starts to frustrate your neighbours, you can soon expect a complaint.
Add this to the fact that HDB apartment units tend to be built rather close to one another, with very limited common areas, it would be very easy to get on your neighbours’ nerves.
5. The need for a secure environment
Your HDB flat is not just your home, it is also home to hundreds of other families in the neighbourhood. The common concern when opening up your home to others is the safety of your neighbours. How can they be sure that your guests are trustworthy? What can they do should something happen between your guest and a member of their family?
It doesn’t require a stretch of the imagination to be paranoid that your guest is just one stressful situation away from becoming violent criminal. And your neighbours definitely don’t want that near to home.
6. Lastly, HDB flats are not investments
In land-scarce Singapore, your HDB flat is not a right, it’s a privilege. You didn’t go through balloting exercise after balloting exercise just to get an apartment that you were planning to sublet. Worse, you’re taking away the chance for other Singaporeans who probably need the flat, and you’re not even planning to live in it.
The fact is that Airbnb allows entire apartments to be rented out to tourists. If subletting HDB flats on a short-term basis is allowed, there will be the possibility for HDB flat owners to rent out their entire HDB flat on Airbnb. This is nothing less than an absolute abuse of Singapore’s public housing policies, and the increased demand it creates would drive up prices unnecessarily.
So can we come to a compromise?
HDB flats aren’t hotels. They’re not designed to be and those who live in them cannot treat their stay like they would a hotel or resort vacation. While lifting the restriction for potential hosts to advertise for guests on Airbnb and other sites would definitely be a good way to earn money from your HDB flats, it cannot be done without setting certain ground rules.
Firstly, renting out of an entire HDB flat should not be allowed. As we mentioned earlier, this would create an inflated demand for flats and would drive up prices.
Secondly, the hosts will need to be held partially responsible for the actions of their guests. This is probably a difficult requirement, but it would then place the onus on the hosts to ensure that their guests are reliable and trustworthy. The neighbours would expect nothing less. If a regulated agreement can be made that satisfies some of the above concerns, there might be hope yet that we will see companies like Airbnb legalized in Singapore.
Do you think HDB flats should be allowed to be rented out on sites like Airbnb? Let us know.