Medical tourists flouting short-term rental rule

Medical tourists entering a terrace house along Jalan Elok.

Over the last few years, there have been reports of home owners purportedly leasing their properties to tourists, in violation of the six-month minimum subletting rule ("More renting out homes as 'hotels' "; April 29).

These incidents appear to be facilitated through portals such as Airbnb and Roomorama.

Increasingly, we are seeing a new breed of short-term tenants - medical tourists.

The Balestier area where I live is highly favoured by such tourists from the Middle East, presumably because of the medical hub in the Novena area and the proximity to various amenities and places of worship.

In my residential development, residents were alarmed to learn that more than 12 per cent of the units had been leased through a Singapore-incorporated company to Middle Eastern medical tourists, who typically arrive with large families and domestic helpers.

The Immigration & Checkpoints Authority's website states that visitors seeking medical treatment here may not extend their stay for more than 89 days from the date of entry into Singapore.

Consequently, medical tourists cannot possibly satisfy the six-month rental requirement.

Although residents in my estate value the diversity of our neighbourhood, we have little tolerance for illegal transient tenants who cause inconvenience and nuisance to us.

With the high concentration of patients from the Middle East, we are also concerned about the Middle East respiratory syndrome.

We have been reporting the cases to the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) since January, and our managing agent has provided all available information to facilitate investigations. But to date, no enforcement action appears to have been taken.

The URA cited reasons such as the lack of direct evidence of infringement and impracticality of obtaining information from the landlords.

We are puzzled as the Planning Act empowers it to require information from any property owner, occupier or tenant.

We hope the URA will invoke its powers and apply greater urgency in its investigations and enforcement actions.

It did suggest that owners institute by-laws to deter short-term accommodation operators from using units within our development. In fact, a group of owners has submitted a detailed proposal to our council for the implementation of such by-laws and to improve security and screening.

Unfortunately, the council is controlled by the property developer, which also owns a majority of the strata units in the development and displays little interest in engaging residents on this issue.

I urge the authorities promoting Singapore as a medical tourism hub to work with the agencies responsible for building the infrastructure to support the growing number of medical tourists.

Letter by Beatrice Tang (Ms)

This article was first published on May 24, 2014.
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