Former property agents plead guilty to illegal short-term sublets

Two men who ran a business providing unauthorised short-term stays earned at least $19,000 over a period of five weeks, a district court heard yesterday.

Terence Tan En Wei, 35, and Yao Songliang, 34, pleaded guilty to four charges earlier this month. The prosecution is seeking a fine of $20,000 on each charge, or a total of $80,000 for each man.

The case is the first since new regulations against home-sharing kicked in on May 15 last year.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Selene Yap told the court that while the offences took place between May 15 and June 21 last year, the total profits reaped by the duo were likely to be much higher as they had been renting flats at D'Leedon condominium off Farrer Road since late 2015.

They did so by setting up companies, through which they rented four different units at the condominium.

Though the rental contracts stated that the flats could not be sublet, Tan and Yao, who were both property agents with Savills Residential, regularly advertised the units on home-sharing sites such as Airbnb and HomeAway as well as Web portals including Craigslist.

Their licences have since been revoked by the Council for Estate Agencies.

In one instance, the duo pocketed £2,455 (S$4,510) by renting out a 59 sq m flat to two guests for 23 nights.

They earned 38,823 Philippine pesos (S$980) by renting out another flat of the same size to six guests for five nights.

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

The prosecution also said the duo "used deception and evasion" to hide their activities, such as by leading guests to a different unit to wait out suspicious security guards, or asking guests to lie about the unit they were staying in.

The maximum fine is $200,000 on each charge. District Judge Kenneth Choo has delayed sentencing to April 3.

Last February, an Urban Redevelopment Authority guideline against any short-term accommodation of under six months in private residences, in place since 2009, was incorporated into the Planning Act, making any such short-term stays illegal. Then the bar was lowered to under three months for private homes from June 30 last year.

For HDB flats, the minimum stay is still six months.