Renting out your condo on Airbnb is a little bit like having gay sex—it’s technically illegal, but the government hasn’t taken any action yet.
Officially, renting out any property for less than 6 months, whether the entire unit or just a room, is illegal. HDB flat owners have had their entire home confiscated because they flouted this rule, but condo owners have so far escaped scot-free, mainly because the government doesn’t technically own their homes.
Now the government is wondering what should be done to regulate short-term home rentals. The neighbours of Airbnb hosts are concerned about safety and security, and some feel uncomfortable about a neverending parade of foreigners coming in and out.
Others are worried Airbnb will disrupt the hospitality industry. Well, of course it will, because who the hell wants to pay $150 for a dingy hotel in Geylang when for the same price you can get an entire luxury 1BR apartment? And if hotels stay vacant, the government loses out too, in the form of taxes on the hotel industry, since Airbnb revenue isn’t taxed.
Here are three ways the government can permit short-term rentals without the world ending.
Make it compulsory to register tenants with the government and/or the condo’s management
Part of the reason people feel unsafe about having all these Airbnb guests come in and out of their blocks is that these guys could wanted terrorists or axe murderers and nobody would know. They could toilet paper the entire condo in a drunken haze and you wouldn’t be able to take action against them.
One solution is to make it compulsory for Airbnb hosts to register their guests with the government and/or the condo’s management. Hosts can also select the “verification required” option when they list their property, so only those who’ve sent scans of their ID to Airbnb can make a booking.
The host will have to accompany the guest to the guardhouse to get them registered with their passports (and employment pass etc if applicable). Copies should be made of the documents and submitted to the government if required.
While there are still going to be a few clowns who misbehave despite having all their details logged by the government, at least people will be better able to trace the culprit and there’ll be a lot more accountability.
Impose penalties on hosts for disturbance caused by tenants
Angry neighbours feel pretty damn helpless now. The only thing they can do if the Airbnb tourists in the next unit decide to throw a foam party is complain to the guards. The actual host is usually far away and couldn’t care less.
The government have shown themselves to be pretty adept at collecting fines for infringements, so they can start doing so in this situation, too.
Fine Airbnb hosts whose guests damage property (with all those 24-hour CCTV cameras, it shouldn’t be too hard to catch them if they’re made to register with security), and also impose fines on those hosts who don’t take action to attend to a neighbour’s reasonable complaints to security.
This may force some Airbnb owners to stay in the apartment together with the guests instead of renting out the entire unit, or make regular trips to the apartment to check on the guests.
More importantly, it will also encourage hosts to draw up their own list of rules to impose on their guests. They can include these rules in their listings and stress that they can ask the guest to leave with a refund if they don’t comply.
Think this sounds too onerous? Well, considering Airbnb hosts make a lot more money renting their homes out on a short-term basis, many will still be willing to put in the extra effort.
Allow short-term rentals of a part of the home but not the entire home
Until their Minimum Occupation Period is up, HDB flat owners aren’t allowed to rent out their entire flat. They can, however, rent out rooms in their flat while continuing to live there. (Of course, only long-term tenants of 6 months or more are allowed in HDB flats).
The government can make short-term rentals in condos less disruptive by allowing hosts to rent out their properties on Airbnb only if they themselves are living there. When the host is living in the same apartment, guests are less likely to run amok. Those who want to throw parties or invite the 50 friends they made at the backpacker’s hostel won’t even think of choosing a flat where the landlord is living.
This might also partially remove the threat to the hotel industry, as those for whom privacy is a big issue will still choose to stay in hotels rather than share an apartment and have to make small talk with an Airbnb host.
Do you think short-term rentals on Airbnb should be allowed in Singapore? Share your views in the comments!