Men who rented out home illegally via Airbnb plead guilty, had earned $19k over 5 weeks

Two men raked in at least $19,000 over five weeks by illegally renting out apartments via Airbnb for unauthorised short-term stays.

Terence Tan En Wei, 35, and Yao Songliang, 34, pleaded guilty to four charges on Tuesday (Feb 27), and the prosecution is seeking a fine of $20,000 for each charge.

This amounts to $80,000 for each of the two men. 

The incident represents the first case of prosecution for a breach of the Urban Redevelopment Authority’s(URA) rules on short-term rentals, reports The Straits Times. 

Home sharing was made illegal when rules first kicked in on May 15, 2017.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Selene Yap said that while the offences took place between May 15 and June 21, 2017, the profits generated by the two were likely to be much higher as they had been renting flats at d'Leedon in Farrer Road since late 2015.

In order to do so, the two of them set up shell companies such as Bluewater IT Solutions, Jim Hunter Pte Ltd, and

CyberCars Prime Workshop, through which they rented out four different units at the condominium.

Although rental contracts stated that the flats could not be sublet, the two who worked for Savills Residential as property agents, regularly advertised the flats on home-sharing sites such as Airbnb and Homeaway.

They also put up advertisements on portals such as Craigslist. 

Their licences have since been revoked by the Council of Estate Agencies.

The court heard that in one instance, the two earned £2,455(S$4,406) by renting out a 59 sq m flat to two guests for 23 nights.

For renting out another flat of the same size to six guests for five nights, the two pocketed 8,823 Philippine pesos (S$1,039). 

In all four cases relating to the charges, the guests had booked their stays and paid through Airbnb. 

The prosecution cited that the two “used deception and evasion” so they could continue their surreptitious activities, such as leading guests to different units to wait out suspicious security guards who tailed them or asking the guests to lie about which unit they were staying in. 

The lawyer representing the two, Ms Wong Soo Chih, sought to limit the fine to $5,000 for each charge, amounting to $20,000 for each of them.

The maximum fine is set at $200,000 for each charge.

District Judge Kenneth Choo delayed sentencing to April 3 and asked both sides for further submissions on suitable starting points for sentencing on future cases.

In February 2017, a URA guideline against short-term accommodation of shorter than six months in private residences, which was in place since 2009, was incorporated into the Planning Act, rendering such short-term stays illegal.

The bar was subsequently lower to under three months for the private homes from June 30, 2017. 

For HDB flat,s the minimal length of stay remains at six months. 

Although both Tan and Yao committed the offences before the three-month bar set in, the periods which the guests stayed were much shorter than either requirement. 

Airbnb head of public policy for Southeast Asia Mich Goh said in an official statement:

"We believe that an individual should, minimally, be able to share the private residence that they live in; and that no individual should be criminalised for sharing their home."

She added that the company has "repeatedly committed" to working with the Government to find a legislative solution that suits Singapore.

In the meantime, a consultation paper to set out a regulatory framework for short-term accommodation will be released before April, the Government has said.