2 HDB homes compulsorily acquired after owners rented space out to tourists
Two HDB flats compulsorily acquired after owners leased them for short term
Consider this a warning for those thinking about making a quick buck from renting their homes to short-term visitors.
Two home owners have lost their flats after the Housing Board found they had let out their units to tourists.
Home-rental websites like Airbnb and Roomorama have become more popular here.
The founder of Roomorama, Ms Teo Jia En, told The Straits Times last month that the website has some 500 listings for Singapore properties, which is an increase of 30 per cent from last year.
A search on travelmob turned up more than 630 local listings, and another portal, Airbnb, has more than 1,000.
But these flout the HDB and URA regulation which states that when a home (HDB or private) is leased out, it must be for at least six months.
Though there have been complaints in the past, and housing authorities have investigated thousands of cases, this is the first time that HDB has revealed it has taken the step of booting out home owners for the infraction.
While the agency would not say when it took back the executive flat in the east, and the four-room flat in the west, it did say that its investigations proved the owners had leased out the flats to multiple tourists for between $25 and $75 per night.
It also issued a warning to one more flat owner in the central part of Singapore.
According to its spokesman, an errant home owner can also face a financial penalty.
The HDB investigated 184 cases of short-term leasing in public flats last year. It investigated 106 cases the year before.
PRIVATE HOMES UNDER SCRUTINY
A spokesman for the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA), which has oversight over private dwellings here, said that in the first four months of this year, it investigated 350 cases of "unauthorised use" of private properties.
Last year, it investigated 2,100 such cases, which included instances where home owners turned their apartments into dorms for foreign workers.
Private homeowners who flout the six-month minimum rule face a maximum fine of $200,000 and a jail term of up to 12 months.
Said the URA spokesman: "Some home owners are turning their homes into boarding houses and leasing rooms out for a couple of days to generate quick income from spaces they can spare."
But most other home owners do not want to live among transient strangers, the spokesman added.
An HDB spokesman said other residents felt the frequent change of occupants would pose security concerns.
There have been complaints aplenty from neighbours.
Late last month, Ms Beatrice Tang wrote in a letter published in The Straits Times' Forum page that she and fellow residents had been perturbed by the comings and goings of tourists in her Balestier area condominium.
They were shocked to learn that 12 per cent of the units in her condo had been leased to Middle Eastern medical tourists, who typically arrive with large families and maids.
She noted there was worry about the tourists especially with the risk of the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome virus.
She also wrote that these tourists cannot fulfil the six-month requirement as "the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's website states that visitors seeking medical treatment here may not extend their stay for more than 89 days (less than three months) from the date of entry into Singapore".
There have been previous cases in Geylang and Chuan Park where residents have been up in arms over tourists moving in and out of their estates.
Authorities around the world are getting tough on the practice. In New York, US, authorities are clamping down on people who use home-sharing websites to operate illegal hotels.
The law there makes renting out residential space for less than 30 days illegal unless the home owner is present at the same time as his visitors.
Recently, Airbnb reached a deal with law enforcement officials there to hand over rental data, stripped of names and other personally identifiable information.
Airbnb is also required to identify the hosts, should it notice suspicious activity.
In Singapore, HDB says it "tracks closely the advertisements on home rental websites", and investigates possible cases of misuse.
The URA says it investigates cases of unauthorised use when they receive feedback where the address is known.
But there are challenges when it comes to enforcement.
"It takes time to gather concrete evidence as we need to conduct multiple inspections and verify information with different sources," said the URA spokesman.
One woman, who did not want to be named, said she had considered putting a room in her HDB flat up for rent on Airbnb, but she was put off at the thought of tourists messing up her home.
When told of the penalties, she was shocked that it could go so far.
"I am not risking it, it's not worth it," said the 68-year-old who lives alone in her Queenstown flat.
When contacted by the media previously, home-rental websites said that their terms and conditions state that users must abide by local laws.
How they were caught
On a rental website, a three-room flat in the central was offered for short-term stay at $40 per night.
The Housing Board traced the address but found no evidence of short-term leasing.
Neighbours confirmed that they did not encounter unfamiliar faces in the block.
The flat owner, known only as Mr K, said he was not aware that the minimum subletting period is six months.
After learning that short-term leasing is not allowed, he removed the advertisement.
He was given a written warning and based on subsequent checks, he no longer advertises his flat.
Flat compulsorily acquired
An executive flat in the east was offered for short-term leasing at $25 per day on a rental website.
The HDB investigated and after surveillance over a period of time, got proof that the flat was being leased to tourists for short-term stays.
Flat compulsorily acquired
The HDB received feedback about short-term leasing of a four-room flat in the west.
A neighbour had noticed unfamiliar faces in the block, and observed frequent changes in the occupiers of the flat.
These occupiers did not look local and were seen carrying luggage. They would often leave after a short time.
HDB found proof that the flat was being leased to tourists.
The flat owners had offered the flat for short-term lease at $75 per night online.