The fine was the highest meted out for such offence so far.
Joel Su Jiqing, a former property agent, was fined $88,000 on Thursday (5 March) for unlawfully offering short-term accommodation to tourists via online platform Airbnb.
Should he fail to pay the fine, he will have to serve 18 weeks behind bars.
The fine was the highest meted out for such offence so far, reported CNA.
Agent earned a total of $115,112 from renting four short-term accommodation to tourists
Su, who was a PropNex agent at the time, pleaded guilty to four charges of offering four residential properties for short-term accommodation of tourists.
District Judge Clement Tan considered two other charges in sentencing the 38-year old man.
Court documents showed that Su earned a total of $115,112 from renting out six properties from October 2017 to September 2018.
To avoid detection, he leased condominium units within the Geylang district which he sublet to local and foreign tourists.
He chose Geylang as he thought residents there would be less likely to raise complaints. Moreover, private home rents in the area were considerably lower, noted Deputy Public Prosecutors Gabriel Lim and Marshall Lim.
Deceived the unit owners by signing the tenancy agreements himself
Knowing that he would not be granted tenancy if he revealed his plan to use the properties for short-term stays, Su deceived the unit owners and signed the tenancy agreements in his own name or his company, The Coffee Cart.
In November 2017, Su was investigated by the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) for offering short-term stays to two guests for six nights between September and October 2017.
He lied to URA officers saying he had no other rental units providing short-term accommodation.
Exercising leniency towards him, the URA did not prosecute Su thinking that it was his only offence.
In August 2018, however, a D’Weave condominium resident complained to URA of many strangers carrying luggage entering and exiting a unit.
An inspection of the condo’s property manager revealed that a group of Filipinos have booked a three-night stay at the unit for $2,156. They even showed him their Airbnb booking print-out.
Lied that the tenants were business clients
When contacted by the property manager, Su lied saying that the group were his business clients. Su also told the property manager that he should have talked to him about the matter instead of reporting it to the URA.
Investigations showed that Su leased the unit for a monthly rent of $2,400 for a year starting from March 2018. But he did not stay there and listed the unit for short-term accommodation of local and foreign visitors from 15 March 2018 to 8 September 2018.
With this, the prosecution asked for a $235,000 fine, citing to how land use should be properly regulated in Singapore to ensure “peaceful enjoyment of this precious resource”.
“A breach of planning regulations can disturb the peace and social harmony,” said the prosecutors. “When an offender chooses to flout these regulations for his selfish gains, he makes a decision that negatively impacts the wider community.”
They also pointed to Su for being uncooperative, continuing with the offence despite the URA investigations and lying to the authority.
Judge Tan found “dishonesty and deception involved at every turn” as well as persistent offending.
He described the mitigating factors offered by the defence “unremarkable” with some being “disingenuous”, pointing to an argument that URA “sent mixed messages”.
He also found Su’s claims of remorse to be “diluted” by his claims of ignorance of the law.
In a statement, URA said Su, who is no longer a registered property agent, is the fifth person to be sentenced for illegal short-term accommodation as well as among the first 10 persons to be charged over it.
Victor Kang, Digital Content Specialist at PropertyGuru, edited this story. To contact him about this or other stories, email email@example.com