Ex-property agent fined $88k for unlawfully subletting multiple properties for short-term stays

Two of the apartments are in #1 Loft, an 80-unit condominium in Geylang, according to court documents.
PHOTO: Google Maps

SINGAPORE - A former property agent was fined $88,000 on Thursday (March 5) for unlawfully subletting multiple private residential properties for short-term accommodation.

This was largest ever fine meted out for such offences.

Joel Su Jiqing, 38, had pleaded guilty to four counts of providing short-term accommodation without planning permission from the authorities.

Two other similar charges were considered during sentencing.

A district court heard that the Singaporean was an agent with PropNex Realty when he committed the offences.

He is no longer registered as one with the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA).

The court heard that Su had leased several private-dwelling properties to provide short-term stays to local and foreign guests through hospitality service provider Airbnb.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Gabriel Lim said: "He chose the Geylang district in order to avoid detection... as he thought the residents in the district were less likely to raise complaints.

"He also chose the Geylang district, as the rents for private-dwelling houses (there) were considerably lower."

But on Aug 20, 2018, auxiliary police officers inspected a unit at the #1 Loft condominium in Geylang Lorong 24 and found a Filipino woman there with her family.

Court documents did not state what spurred the officers to go there.

The woman had secured a short-term accommodation at the unit from Su through Airbnb.

The court heard that Su had not sought the unit owner's written consent to sublet the property.

After this incident, he was found to have committed similar offences linked to other properties within the same neighbourhood.

In a joint statement with the CEA on Thursday, the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) said it had since charged 10 people, comprising a mix of both owners and tenants, with engaging in unauthorised short-term accommodation.

Five of them, including Su, were then fined between $13,000 and $88,000.

The remaining five face a total of more than 80 charges, and their cases are still pending.

The joint statement said that property agents are expected to comply with the relevant laws that apply to property transactions, including URA's regulations governing short-term accommodation at private residential properties.

"CEA takes a serious view of agents flouting such government regulations."

Property agents who have been convicted of offences involving short-term accommodation will be subjected to debarment from practising estate agency work for three years.

For former property agents applying to re-join the real estate agency industry, CEA will take their past convictions into account when assessing their applications.

For each charge, Su could have been fined up to $200,000.

This article was first published in The Straits Times. Permission required for reproduction.