An Exposé on Airbnb in Singapore – 2020

4 mins

Anyone who makes a distinction between travel and tourism has considered staying in an Airbnb rental. After all, nothing gives you a better peek into the lives of locals than spending a night in their homes, rather than calling for room service in a faceless hotel room.

But Airbnb has stepped on the toes of governments all over the world. The spirit of the sharing economy might promote authentic travel experiences and intercultural understanding, but Airbnb has also been blamed for raising rents, causing housing shortages and, in Singapore, disturbing the peace.

Airbnb in Singapore – legal or not?

Exposé on Airbnb in Singapore
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There is a bit of confusion about the status of Airbnb in Singapore and whether it is legal to use the platform. Let’s examine the legality of Airbnb, what actually happens in practice and what that means for tenants.

a) Is Airbnb really illegal in Singapore?

Renting out property on home sharing platforms like Airbnb is not technically illegal in Singapore. However, the government imposes a minimum rental period of 3 months for non-landed private property and 6 months for Housing Development Board (HDB) flats, which are a form of government housing.

b) Reasons for banning short-term rentals

The reasons for banning Airbnb short-term rentals in Singapore might surprise you. With the vast majority of Singapore citizens living in owned accommodation, Airbnb has not had a measurable impact on long-term rents, which is the bugbear of residents in many major cities.

Instead, one of the ostensible reasons for outlawing short-term rentals is to promote greater security for residents. High-density, high-rise housing is the norm in Singapore, with residents often packed cheek-to-jowl in towering skyscrapers. When people live in such close proximity, there is greater concern about what the neighbours are up to.

In a 2019 survey conducted by government body the Urban Redevelopment Authority, almost seven in 10 respondents felt that short-term rentals would raise security concerns and result in a loss of privacy. In addition, more than six in 10 were concerned about misbehaviour, noise and other disturbances.

c) What happens in practice

short term rental bed
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As tourist visas to Singapore are typically up to 3 months long, these regulations seek to reserve home rentals for those who are in Singapore for reasons other than tourism, and to drive tourists into the arms of hotels and hostels.

In spite of the above, you will still find a fair number of hosts on Airbnb who are willing to rent out their properties to tourists for less than the requisite amount of time.

This happens because in practice, it is impossible for the authorities to police every single Airbnb reservation to check if guests are staying for at least three months. In addition, a contract of at least three months can still legally be prematurely terminated by either the landlord or the tenant, which offers Airbnb hosts a convenient excuse if they are caught for the first time.

That is not to say that fines have never been doled out for illegal Airbnb rentals. In 2018, two men were fined $60,000 each for illegal Airbnb rentals. However, in that case, which was the first of its kind, the wrongdoing was egregious, with the men running a clandestine business by renting out numerous condo units from owners and then secretly subletting them on a short-basis on Airbnb.

Apart from exceptional cases like the above, Airbnb continues to be a ready source of local homes for rent, and the majority of guests do not face any issues.

d) Is it legal to stay in an Airbnb in Singapore?

While it is illegal for hosts to rent out their property on a short-term basis, it is not illegal for a guest to stay in a short-term rental. So, you should not get into trouble with the law for making a reservation.

Airbnb vs hotels – which is better?

unique vacation rental caravan
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Many people opt for Airbnb because home rentals offer a vastly different experience from hotel stays. The tastes of experienced travellers have evolved, and there is stronger demand from this segment for authenticity and greater interest in how ordinary people live. The assembly line tourist experience of checking into a standard issue hotel and then hopping on a tour bus to gawk at monuments no longer appeals.

Thanks to home sharing platforms, travellers get to stay in local properties of all sorts, from bedrooms with the host’s favourite posters still plastered on the walls, to sumptuously preserved historic buildings, boats, tiny houses and everything in between.

In addition, hotels in Singapore don’t come cheap, and there’s simply better value to be had on Airbnb. $100 can get you a dingy hotel room in the red light district, or it can get you a luxury studio apartment in a central area. You decide.

However, if you need a 24/7 service from a dedicated concierge or perks like an in-house restaurant, a hotel is in the best position to offer you that kind of convenience. The level of service offered at Airbnb properties can vary greatly. On one end of the scale, you might be provided with breakfast and regular housekeeping. On the other, you might have little more than a place to sleep and a window into someone else’s life. Don’t expect your Airbnb host to provide services like baggage storage.

Craving an authentic experience but still want the service and perks of a hotel stay? Opt for a localised boutique hotel instead. For instance, at The Warehouse Hotel, a five star history- and culture-themed boutique hotel, you’ll stay in rooms kitted out in shades of Singapore’s past.

So, you want to stay in an Airbnb? Here’s what to do

short term rental in a tent
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Renting a place on Airbnb in Singapore is not that different from doing so anywhere else, but there are a few things you might want to look out for to ensure your stay goes off without a hitch.

a) Know which properties to rent

Most of Airbnb’s listings are for private condo units. These can be quite luxurious, come with communal facilities such as gyms and swimming pools and are a great option for a few days in the sun.

But stay away from HDB flat rentals. Not only is the minimum rental period for these government-built apartments longer at 6 months, staying in one can also get your host slapped with much more than a fine. The government can confiscate HDB flats from owners who flout the rules and rent them out on a short-term basis. HDB flats, being government property, are also policed a bit more than private homes, as any complaints go directly to a government body rather than the building’s management.

b) Read the listings carefully

vacationer on bed
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Don’t forget to read every bit of the listing so you know what you’re signing up for. Will you be renting a room in a shared apartment or getting the whole unit to yourself? Are there any house rules? Do you have to bring your own sheets, towels and toiletries? What time is check-in and check-out? Are you allowed to use the kitchen? You should have the answers to these questions before you book, not after. When in doubt, send the Airbnb host a message to clarify.

c) Watch out for additional fees

Airbnb tacks on a few additional fees to the sticker price. These might include cleaning fees, service fees and other occupancy taxes and charges. Be sure to take these into account when comparing accommodation options.

d) Stay safe

locked door
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While you’ll certainly find Singapore safer than almost anywhere else you’ve visited, the usual safety tips and guidelines apply when staying in an Airbnb rental.

To avoid getting scammed, any payments should be made through the Airbnb platform. Always read ratings and reviews before making a booking and only stay with a host you feel you can trust and whose identify has been verified by the platform. A host with lots of mostly positive reviews and an absence of red flag-raising negative reviews is preferable to one with few reviews or numerous negative ones. All communication should take place on the Airbnb platform in case a dispute has to be resolved by the company.

Opting for a property with a flexible deposit policy is a good idea for advance bookings as you only have to pay a portion, typically 50%, upfront, and can pay the balance closer to your date of check-in.

When you arrive at the property, inspect it to make sure it is safe and secure, and that you can lock up properly. Also check for safety features such as fire extinguishers, fire escapes and first aid kits.

e) What happens if your listing gets cancelled?

It is illegal for hosts to rent out their property on a short-term basis, but it is not illegal for a guest to stay in a short-term rental. Still, as with all Airbnb bookings, there is the risk that the host will cancel your reservation at the last minute. In addition, when staying in a condo unit, there is a slight risk of being turned away by the building’s management or security.

In practice, when something like that happens, Airbnb tends to offer to rebook you into alternative accommodation. Keep them on speed dial and familiarise yourself with their guest refund policy so you know what to do if your booking gets cancelled.

Where to stay?

haji lane in singapore
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Where you should stay really depends on what you intend to do in Singapore and how you plan to get around. For starters, if you intend to take public transport at least some of the time, you should opt for a property located within walking distance of an MRT station. It is far more useful to be able to walk to an MRT station than just a bus stop.

For intrepid travellers who want to explore the island, properties near places of interest in the city core are ideal. Neighbourhoods like Chinatown, Little India, Jalan Besar and Bugis are a great base, while being more affordable than prime areas like Marina Bay and Orchard. For those who want to enjoy the nightlife scene, staying in the River Valley, Chinatown or Tanjong Pagar area can make it easier to get back after a night on the town.

On the other hand, if you’re in Singapore for business in the CBD but don’t want to break the bank by actually staying there, opt for nearby properties in areas like Tanjong Pagar, Chinatown and Outram.

What is the Airbnb experience like in 2020?

nicely decorated rental
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So, what is it really like staying in Airbnb accommodation in 2020? COVID-19 has definitely had an impact on the home sharing community, with many hosts removing listings due to concerns about the pandemic. Occupancy rates are also down due to the absence of tourists. Overall, there is less competition for available properties, prompting some owners to lower their asking price.

That actually makes it a good time to try Airbnb for a staycation or temporary lodging before a move. If you’re concerned about possible infection, opt to rent entire Airbnb units rather than shared accommodation.

Instead of trawling through scores of Airbnb listings in search of the perfect one, here are some curated lists give you an idea of what’s out there:

– The 20 Best Airbnb Singapore Vacation Rentals | Unique Stays, Lofts, and Apartments by Jones Around the World

– 10 Most Gorgeous Airbnbs In Singapore Right Now For Short-Term Stays by Hype & Stuff

– 10 Best Cheap Airbnbs In Singapore Under 39 USD – Updated 2020 by Trip101

Conclusion

backpacker leaving on a journey
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COVID-19 has thrown a spanner in the works of anything to do with travel and hospitality, with the number of Singapore Airbnb listings falling dramatically in 2020. In time to come, the government might adjust the short-term rental guidelines as a response to the hospitality industry and rental markets’ new reality, so check back here for updates.

Right now, the fact of the matter is that Airbnb has become an indispensable part of the travel experience. In spite of the authorities’ attempts to regulate short-term rentals, homeowners will continue to want to monetise their properties. So, it is highly likely Airbnb listings will resurface once tourism to Singapore resumes.

Looking for accommodation with character or need short-term lodging until you find a new home? Looking to live like a local? Consider staying in one of Figment’s heritage shophouses. Some homes have serviced apartment licenses allowing for stays of as little as seven days, and every home has been stunningly decorated and sensitively refurbished in order to preserve its historic character.