URA wants homeowners' consensus approval for Airbnb-like accommodations

There are currently diverse views on its regulatory framework for short-term accommodations.

The Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) asked for public feedback for a regulatory framework for short-term accommodation (STA) options following the penalising of two Airbnb hosts for breaking the rules on apartment rentals.

"Advances in technology and changing consumer trends have led to a blurring of lines between residential and hotel uses. Facilitated by online platforms and mobile applications, there has been a surge of short-term accommodation (STA) options in residential properties all over the world. While this started off largely as an unregulated activity, the situation has evolved in recent years, due to concerns over abuses and the impact on housing affordability."

Within Singapore, there are diverse views on the matter. Some welcome the trend of STA, as it allows homeowners to supplement their income and provides more accommodation options for tourists. Others are not supportive of homes being used for STA and have raised concerns about noise disturbance, abuse of common property, and the loss of privacy and security due to transient occupants in their estates. At the same time, those in the hotel and Serviced Apartment businesses have also called for a more level playing field in the regulatory framework.

URA proposed a new use category of STA be allowed for private homes. "In other words, this will apply only to private properties that are already approved for residential use, and not for HDB properties," it said.

The agency also proposed to have the property owners consent to the STA use of their properties. For non-strata-titled properties, owners can decide on the matter, whilst for strata-titled properties like apartments, the views of all strata-titled property owners must be obtained.

Nevertheless, URA noted that it may not be practical to get consensus from 100% of the owners. "It would be sufficient for the Management Corporations (MCST) to get the support of at least 80% of the share value in favour of STA use in the development. This is to ensure that a significant majority of owners (i.e. Subsidiary Proprietors or SPs) agree to the presence of short-term rental activities in their development. This MCST endorsement will be valid for a 2-year period and needs to be renewed with an updated vote count each time. If the level of consent falls below 80%, the earlier endorsement will not be renewed," it added.

The agency also plans to allow MCSTs to place additional measures to manage potential dis-amenity and disturbances in order to get support for STA use in the development.

The 80% approval rate, however, does not guarantee that the property will immediately have STA use but URA will be prepared to consider the application favourably. In assessing the applications for STA, URA will consider the impact of STA use on the surrounding community. "This includes factors such as the type of residential development, the character of the area and the presence (or absence) of a formal self-governance structure within the residential estate," it said.

URA said a favourable decision also lies in the location of properties. "This would be especially so for properties that are located in mixed-use areas such as commercial centres and business parks, or sites that are fronting major and arterial roads with good traffic infrastructure... There is no MCST-like governance structure and the presence of STA will have a greater impact on residents. Hence URA is unlikely to approve STA use in such areas. Likewise, properties, where there are already dis-amenities in the surrounding area, will not be allowed for STA use. This includes areas where there are existing social concerns related to security and vice," it added.

Additionally, URA proposed an annual rental cap of 90 days that the property can be used for STA, an occupancy cap of 6 persons per unit at any one time, compulsory registration by each individual property owner with URA prior to listing the property for STA use, and a requirement for hosts to give URA a record of guest details per stay.

The agency also plans to impose fire safety requirements for STA developments.

URA is also eyeing the licensing of platform operators that advertise or market rental units in Singapore for STA use. "Under such a framework, all STA transactions would have to be channelled through “Licensed Platform Operators” (LPOs). Platform operators without a licence will not be permitted to advertise or market units in Singapore for STA use," it said.

It will require LPOs to track services, keep visitors' stay within the government limit, pay taxes, and disclose information of their website to the government.

"In developing this regulatory framework for STA use, we recognise that there are growing overlaps between the different accommodation options. Private Residential Units, Serviced Apartments and Hotels are currently regulated separately. But with the overlapping uses, there is a need to look at these different accommodation options as a broad continuum, serving diverse customer segments," URA concluded.

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