From stylish apartments to cheerful single rooms, tourists in search of alternative lodgings in Singapore are spoilt for choice.
The website of Airbnb, a leading player in the home-sharing market here, has options such as a Kallang shophouse for $249 a night, a Tiong Bahru flat for $114 or a room in East Coast with queen-sized bed and balcony for a mere $48.
According to Airbnb, there are about 6,000 properties listed on its website here.
Other home-sharing websites have set up here as well, such as PandaBed and Roomorama.
Yet, it is currently illegal for private and public home-owners to lease their properties for less than six months.
While a few home-sharing site listings are for long-term options, most are for short stays, which means they are breaking the law.
The authorities are still trying to decide if rules should be relaxed for private properties.
From January to April last year, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) held a public consultation to assess if this short-term rental policy for private properties needed to be reviewed.
But last Wednesday, more than a year on, the URA said it needs more time to consider the issue.
In the meantime, enforcement action will still be taken, it added.
Under current rules, private home-owners who lease their units for less than six months can be fined up to $200,000 and jailed for up to a year.
For Housing Board flats, there is no plan to review the short-term stay rules, which aim "to pre-empt high turnover of occupants, which could affect the living environment for HDB residents", said the HDB.
Such disruption is also why some private property residents object to short-term rentals. "Some Airbnb users throw their cigarette butts and cause a lot of inconvenience," said housewife Ruth Tiang, 50.
Residents are also worried about safety in general.
When dental assistant Rodelita C. Leng's family members travel, they use Airbnb. Yet, the 38-year-old resident of Vacanza@East in Kembangan would not like the same to happen here.
"If my neighbours register their units under AirBnb, anyone can just go in and out. This is not safe and secure for my two young children," she said.
Those who list their condominium properties on home-sharing sites often offer the use of facilities such as gyms.
Businessman Kenny Tan, 40, said guests are sometimes not as careful as residents.
He said: "We pay a premium for the security and the facilities. The treatment of common facilities by transient tourists will inevitably be worse than the owners'."
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.
OPEN TO THE IDEA
However, residents at condominiums such as the Soleil @ Sinaran in Novena and Vogx in Dorset Road - both of which have units listed on Airbnb - said they had not noticed disturbances. Others are more open to the idea of home-sharing, especially if the authorities regulate it.
Said 25-year-old housewife Meggie Liu, who lives at Casa Merah condominium in Tanah Merah: "I will support URA legalising it as I feel that owners have the right to make their own choices about their property."
Rules can be included to ensure that landlords take steps to screen their guests, she added.
Mr Yeo Tong Wei, 21, who is waiting to start university, said that welcoming Airbnb will help Singapore be a more immersive cultural hub.
"I think it's a very organic way of learning about the city and its inhabitants, as compared with hotels," he said.
MAINTAINING MARKET STANDARDS
The hospitality industry is another stakeholder whose views have been sought by URA.
The Singapore Hotel Association (SHA), for one, supports the status quo. Private home-owners could become competition for both hotels and serviced apartments, said SHA executive director Margaret Heng.
"Equally critical to the tourism industry in Singapore is how do we ensure safety, security and hygiene standards in private outfits" which are unregulated, she added.
This need to uphold tourism standards was echoed by hotels.
Said Royal Plaza on Scotts general manager Patrick Fiat: "Home-shares are inconsistent in service delivery and cleanliness standards, which will have an impact on the image of Singapore as a travel destination in the long run."
Said Regent Singapore director of marketing Jeff Crowe: "All of us benefit directly or indirectly from Singapore's reputation as a safe destination... Hopefully, (any) upcoming legislation will ensure new entrants are held to the same high standards required of the established hospitality operators."
Still, both high-end hotels and backpacker hostels told The Sunday Times they were not overly worried about direct competition.
"It's a different market that we cater to, where our guests are looking for luxury, as well as unique and special experiences," said a spokesman for Hotel Fort Canning, which offers packages such as a buggy tour in Fort Canning Park.
Shophouse The Social Hostel co-founder Mustaffa Kamal has even turned Airbnb to his advantage, listing some of his rooms there. "There's no point in fighting, so I leverage on it."
TO LEGALISE OR NOT
Ang Mo Kio GRC MP Darryl David compared the rise of home-sharing sites with other "disruptive innovations" such as private-hire services UberX and GrabCar, which have given commuters more transport choices.
Last month, the Land Transport Authority announced it will introduce regulations for these services. These include requiring drivers to apply for a licence.
Mr David, who is in the Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC) for National Development, said home-sharing could also have potential benefits for both tourism and home-owners, but it needs more study.
"Because these are disruptive technologies, we are forced to sit down and see how to incorporate them into our system," he said. "To ban them or to ignore them is not necessarily the best solution.
"You don't want to have this go underground."
GPC for National Development deputy chairman Chong Kee Hiong said that if short-term rentals are allowed down the road, then they should be subject to rules "that ensure equity among all stakeholders". The rules should also address safety and privacy concerns.
What about the fact that home-sharing sites still operate despite the current legal issues?
"My view is that it is not correct to say that since these sites are likely to continue, we should legalise it. This is putting the cart before the horse," replied Mr Chong, who is an MP for Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC.
If the rules against short-term rentals remain, then the authorities should further step up enforcement so owners are aware of the consequences, he added.
- Additional reporting by Clement Yong, Jessie Lim, Aleysa John, Delphine Kao, Timothy Goh
This article was first published on May 22, 2016.
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