The old, neat demarcation between business-led organisation and peer-driven arrangement has vanished in the supply of an increasing range of goods and services. That's the extravagant claim of the sharing-economy technopreneurs behind Airbnb, FlipKey, HomeAway, Roomorama and PandaBed (short-term property rentals); Uber, GrabTaxi and Easy Taxi (third-party taxi bookings); Open Shed (household appliance rentals); and JustPark (parking space rentals).
The truth is the separation still exists but the lines have been blurred in a number of ways - for both better and worse. Lower prices and greater choices benefit consumers generally. But unpredictable standards and weak safeguards are matters of concern.
The new model's touted informality (making agreements appear less transactional and more like "sharing") lowers one's guard against mutual risks and responsibilities. Thus, it's better to take this "collaborative economy" out of the grey area. Balancing competing interests and advancing the larger public good - especially when disruptive innovations affect third parties - are, after all, the proper remit of legislation.
However, the evolving nature of such developments is prompting regulators to take measured steps. In the sphere of taxi bookings, the Land Transport Authority has decided that operators should be registered and fees ought to be controlled.
For short-term rentals, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) is seeking public views to weigh possible changes to existing rules. These bar the leasing of homes for less than six months to "safeguard the amenity and living environment" and to ensure residents are not "adversely affected by the frequent turnover of transient occupiers", says the URA.
States like North Carolina in the United States have already made legal provisions for vacation rentals. Elsewhere, regulations are either lacking or are difficult to grasp, as in New York City where short-term vacation apartment rentals "are often outright scams or likely to be illegal", according to TripAdvisor.
Regulating the industry can help secure protection against fire and health risks, and hazards like unsafe fittings, overcrowding and unsanitary conditions.
Transient tenancies warrant payment of security bonds and additional contributions to management corporations of condominiums - to ensure by-laws are respected; and to cover the costs of additional security, insurance cover, cleaning, and asset maintenance and replacement from accelerated wear and tear or theft.
The privacy, security and comfort that all residents of a development are entitled to deserve to be spelt out so short-term rentals do not create long-term problems.
This article was first published on January 2, 2015.
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