A home is not a hotel

A home is not a hotel

I share Ms Charissa Yong's taste for bohemian wanderlust ("Let's open door to short-term rentals"; Sept 21). When I was on a solo backpacking trip across southern Europe about 20 years ago, I met a neo-Fascist Austro-Italian who admired Singapore's social discipline as well as Singapore Airlines. He also happened to be the concierge of a licensed hostel in Florence where I stayed for three nights.

I would have missed the fun of discussing politics and Italian cinema with him and his Japanese girlfriend if I had booked an empty summer apartment, as some do via short-term rental website Airbnb these days.

Some hotels and hostels in Singapore are rated very highly on travel websites like TripAdvisor for introducing their guests to local cultural hot spots. This debunks the myth about the hospitality industry's "cookie-cutter nature", which has been generated to support short-term rentals of residential properties

Ms Yong's suggestion to "regulate" this "business" just because some home owners, landlords and tenants are already engaging in it is akin to saying we should regulate snatch thefts in Orchard Road because their numbers are increasing.

The law states clearly that these acts are illegal and offenders will be brought to justice. Condominiums are not like hotels with huge budgets for security, maintenance and insurance. Any destruction or theft of assets would add to maintenance costs borne by law-abiding residents who value their privacy and security. Why should they be made to pay for the recalcitrance of a greedy few?

There are also tax and other implications of blurring the line between residential and commercial assets. Multibillion-dollar entities like Airbnb that believe they can do a better job than the hospitality industry should seek approval to develop and manage a "condo-hotel" here, instead of trying to operate above the law.

A commercial development like a "condo-hotel" could be a very lucrative venture, given the growing clamour among those keen on renting out their residences on short leases. It may just breathe new life into our softening real estate sector.

Toh Cheng Seong

This article was first published on Oct 5, 2014.
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