Singapore Reviews Airbnb-Related Regulations

Listings available in Singapore on the website of home sharing startup Airbnb.

Singapore is reviewing guidelines governing the kind of short-term rentals used by home sharing companies like Airbnb, underscoring the regulatory uncertainties the fast-growing startup faces as it expands abroad.

At question in wealthy, tightly controlled Singapore: Should home owners be allowed to rent out their residences for short periods of time, as Airbnb users typically do?

It’s a legal gray area that the San Francisco-based company — one of the world’s hottest startups, valued at $10 billion — has faced in various markets as it has expanded throughout Europe and Asia.

In Singapore, where Airbnb provides listings for hundreds of properties, the city-state’s Urban Redevelopment Authority, or URA, late last month began soliciting feedback from the public regarding existing regulations.

According to the rules, private homes cannot be rented out for a period of less than six months, meaning anyone who uses Airbnb or other home sharing sites for just a few days are in violation of the law.

A URA spokeswoman said the body has been receiving “an increasing amount of feedback, both for and against short-term stays,” but declined to say when new regulations, if any, could be implemented. She said the government has served notices against violators in the past, but did not specify how many. Since 2013, there have been some 520 complaints in Singapore about short-term stays, according to the government.

In a post last month on his official blog, National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan — head of the agency that oversees the URA — wrote that while Airbnb benefits homeowners by providing them with cash, nearby residents “would not like to see their quiet neighbourhood becoming a hotel district.” He added, “I myself think it’s not a good idea.”

Airbnb is “delighted to hear that URA is soliciting public feedback on this important issue and we hope that it will lead to fair and progressive rules for home sharing in Singapore,” an Airbnb spokeswoman said.

It is common for authorities in Singapore to solicit feedback on matters that could have a substantial effect on consumers, according to Bryan Tan, a Singapore-based partner with the law firm Pinsent Masons who specializes in technology law.

Meanwhile, U.K. lawmakers on Monday floated a proposal that would legalize Airbnb and similar sites in London. Elsewhere, the company is facing fines in Barcelona and has come under scrutiny in New York City.