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Airbnb hosts who made illegal short-term home rentals fined S$60,000 in first case before Singapore court

THE two men who ran a business providing unauthorised short-term stays in a condominium in the Holland Village area were fined S$60,000 each on Tuesday.

Former property agents Terence Tan En Wei, 35, and Yao Songliang, 34, had pleaded guilty to four charges earlier in February and on Tuesday were fined S$15,000 per charge.

This is the first case of prosecution for a breach of the Urban Redevelopment Authority's rules on short-term rentals. Rules making home sharing illegal kicked in on May 15 last year.

In their business, the duo earned at least S$19,000 from four listings over five weeks last year.

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The prosecution had sought to fine each man S$80,000, while the defendants hoped to pay a maximum fine of S$20,000 each.

But District Judge Kenneth Choo said the S$80,000 fine was too excessive, as the profits of the duo was S$19,000.

In deciding on the fine, the judge said there were several aggravating factors, such as the duo's pre-meditation to be a profit-driven enterprise, advertising their d'Leedon condominium units in Farrer Road which they had subletted on portals like Airbnb or Homeaway.

As former real estate agents - their licenses have since been revoked - they also should have known that short-term stays were illegal, he said.

Tan and Yao also took steps to avoid detection, including evading suspicious security guards by bringing their guests to a completely different unit.

But Judge Choo noted that the duo were first-time offenders, who pleaded guilty at the earliest possible opportunity and cooperated fully with the authorities.

Ms Wong Soo Chih, the duo's lawyer, said her clients were satisfied with the outcome. They paid the fine on the spot.

But she wondered, given an upcoming public consultation on home-sharing rules, if her clients had been sentenced pre-maturely.

"While ignorance of the law is no excuse, to the layman, it sounds like the authorities are open to home-sharing," she said.