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More rigorous process to gauge views on short-term stays

URA's reply, 6 Aug 2018

We refer to the recent editorial and letters questioning the need for a survey on the proposed regulatory framework for short-term accommodation (Needless delay to short-term stay ruling, July 28; Rules on short-term stays must protect home owners, by Mr Herve Michel, July 30; Authorities dragging their feet on short-term rental issue, by Mr Toh Cheng Seong, July 26; and Time for S'pore to embrace Airbnb-style stays, by Mr Denis Edward, July 26).

The recent public consultation was conducted online and garnered some useful responses. But since short-term accommodation is a complex matter that impacts all home owners, there is a need to engage with a broader and more representative segment of the population.

In particular, the survey will go beyond simply getting members of the public to fill up a survey form.

We intend to interview different groups of respondents on the specific parameters of the proposed regulatory framework, to assess if there is a need for any further fine-tuning.

The findings of the survey will also allow us to determine if there are certain areas that are more amenable to short-term accommodation.

The Straits Times editorial itself had suggested that one way to move forward is by ring-fencing private property in designated areas for short-term accommodation.

This is precisely why we need a more rigorous data-based process - to better understand ground feedback and sentiments in these areas before we proceed with any such moves.

Goh Chin Chin (Ms)
Group Director (Development Control)
Urban Redevelopment Authority

Letter, 30 Jul 2018, Straits Times

Rules on short-term stays must protect home owners

What is conveniently called the new economy or sharing economy is no different from any other business model and, like all commercial operations, it needs to optimise its profits and return on investment (URA to seek more detailed views on Airbnb-style stays; July 24).

When it comes to property and the place where one resides, the approach has to be cautious. The right of every owner to enjoy a safe and peaceful environment has to be preserved.

Any new idea or change does not necessarily mean progress. There should not be any pressure to embrace it simply because it is new or has been implemented by others.

The inconveniences and security issues caused by transient residents - such as tourists - to the established residents of an estate must be the first consideration when drawing new regulations.

Sharing a unit in a condo is not similar to sharing a private landed house, as there is also the sharing of common spaces in condos. This cannot be done without the approval of all stakeholders.

It is surely a good initiative from the Urban Redevelopment Authority to seek more information from the public, but it should be done without the involvement of business operators, who seek to gain from short-term accommodations.

The main goal of any regulation should be to protect the home owners who want to live in a stable and safe environment that comes with a sense of community.

It is not to accommodate the minority who want to monetise their property.

Herve Michel

Letter, 26 Jul 2018, Straits Times

Authorities dragging their feet on short-term rental issue

Making informed decisions driven by accurate and representative data is certainly sensible (URA to seek more detailed views on Airbnb-style stays; July 24).

Judging from the pushback against so-called "home sharing" in the form of tougher rules - from Tokyo to New York to Barcelona - there appears to be a universal consensus that no individual exists alone, but as part of a community.

At least five years have elapsed since the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) started addressing this issue, with one survey after another. What other information is it seeking before it can make a decision on the matter?

Last year, the Government amended the law governing private residential use to ban the leasing of such residential properties for less than three months, down from the previous six months, to cater to the accommodation needs of visitors on short-term working stints.

Backing that up with a ban on all online advertisements which promote our residences as vacation homes would have made sense, especially since this is the raison d'etre of all home-sharing sites.

It is also a legislative loophole that they and their clients have exploited for their nefarious business.

Now that the likes of Airbnb haveyears of transaction data on short-term rentals, what's stopping URA from gaining access to this as evidence to prosecute the culprits?

Is this not legally permissible?

If so, why was this kink also not ironed out in last year's legislative amendment?

Plodding along indefinitely to seek consensus on a regulatory framework for short-term rentals when the enforcement of existing laws to stamp out this illegal activity is clearly inadequate cannot be the response of a First World nation like Singapore.

Toh Cheng Seong

Letter, 26 Jul 2018, Straits Times

Time for S'pore to embrace Airbnb-style stays

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) announced that it has commissioned a new study to gather Singaporeans' views on short-term accommodation after a public consultation earlier this year yielded mixed results (URA to seek more detailed views on Airbnb-style stays; July 24).

For years, the Singapore authorities have hesitated to issue home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb a licence to fully operate here.

It may be time to refrain from using public resources to run surveys that have so far not led to any major conclusion.

The authorities did not conduct such long-stretched public surveys before allowing ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Grab to operate. Social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter were also not subjected to long waits over extensive consultations before becoming commonplace among Singaporeans.

There were many voices that raised reasonable objections against these platforms. But the authorities then, as they should do now, decided to move with the times.

Allowing platforms such as Airbnb to fully operate here will bring its unique set of changes, both social and economic.

But good governance is about addressing these changes head on to capitalise on the massive market opportunity of tourists who seek authentic short-term accommodation.

Extending the public survey is likely to yield more mixed results since there will always be strong voices against the service. These opponents include individuals linked to well-funded hotel chains that are threatened by the competition as well as ordinary residents who feel they will be inconvenienced by tourist traffic in their estate.

Perhaps it is time for Singapore to embrace this change and manage the challenges that come with it.

Doing so will also reduce URA's enforcement expenses and allow it to study the impact of short-term accommodation on the country in real time.

Denis Edward