Is AirBnB worth potential jail time?

An excerpt of the warning letter I spotted in the elevator lobby of the apartment I stayed at in Singapore, booked via AirBnB.
An excerpt of the warning letter I spotted in the elevator lobby of the apartment I stayed at in Singapore, booked via AirBnB.

As a semi-frequent user of AirBnB for my stays around the world (my last 2-week trip had only 3 nights in a hotel) I’ve learned the nuances and quirks of where the service is completely and openly accepted and where to just be a friend of the host, staying in an apartment for the weekend. But my arrival to a listing in Singapore last week was the first time I’d even considered that jail time might be involved in a stay. Fortunately the risk is for the host, not the guest, but it was still rather alarming to read the note posted in the elevator lobby of the building.

I knew things were slightly askew when I asked for directions to the apartment and was told that the host would send a car to collect me at the airport. I don’t mind saving $20 and 30 minutes of commute time but it was definitely unexpected. And it was also a means to get me in to the building’s parking garage entrance rather than arriving through the front lobby with my suitcases. From there it became even more strange.

There were issues with the keycards for accessing the elevator and other, minor things about the stay to make me not recommend it for others. But the most jarring was the sign I noticed on the second or third night, posted in the elevator lobby area.

An excerpt of the warning letter I spotted in the elevator lobby of the apartment I stayed at in Singapore, booked via AirBnB.
An excerpt of the warning letter I spotted in the elevator lobby of the apartment I stayed at in Singapore, booked via AirBnB.

We would like to highlight to you that under the Urban Redevelopment Authority (URA) Guidelines, you are not allowed to lwase/sublet your premises on a short-term basis and the minimum period of subletting must not be less than six months. Offender can be jail up to 12 months and/or fine up to $200,000.00.

Yes, they are really threatening jail time for those caught renting out their apartment as a short-term stay, including via AirBnB. And somehow the host we had felt that was a reasonable risk to assume. Which is absolutely bonkers to me.

Property owners in New York State won’t face jail time under a new law signed last month but the risks for short-term rental operators are also facing significant fines for renting out homes and apartments as hotels. The new rule also holds the website hosting the listing liable, something AirBnB is fighting in court citing, among other things, the DMCA. On that front I believe it has a chance given the way the law is written, but in the interim AirBnB says it will pursue other changes in its policies to theoretically make its service more palatable to the state and local governments. This includes limiting a host to only one property and collecting taxes on behalf of the city and state for rentals in New York. Alas, the move was too little, too late to prevent the bill from being signed by Governor Cuomo. But it does show that the company is willing to play by some of the rules when pushed hard enough.

And, fortunately, New Yorkers will avoid jail time for transgressions. At least for now. Because a whole bunch of them still have listings live on the site. And that could be an expensive choice to make.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. City of MIami Beach has also implemented very steep fines. It is illegal to rent your home/apt for less than six months in most of Miami Beach.

  2. As a landlord, I can honestly say, I gave 60 days notice to a tenant for renting out the house on Airbnb. Upstanding citizen as she was she was gone in 3 and stiffed me on the rent.

    First, I have four provisions in the lease about habitability, number of occupants, sub-leasing, and guests. Second, but most important, MY HOMEOWNER’S INSURANCE DOESN’T COVER/ALLOW IT! Third, if I rent to you and one other, what gives you the right to rent it to ‘up to 8 people’ on Airbnb? A 2/1 in Silicon Valley for up to 8 people no #ucking way. Not the wear and tear, not the liability, and not the character of the neighborhood. Nor would I do this to owner-occupied neighbors as it changes the character of the neighborhood. Not to mention who does this behind their landlord’s back?? They have entrusted you with a valuable asset and you just took advantage of it. Now my leases have a No Airbnb/VRBO/short-term sublease clause. Not okay, not ever. IMHO 😉

  3. These are not the best comparisons. Individuals do NOT own their own homes in Singapore. The vast majority of the population live in residential rental properties assigned by the government. Residents are matched to their homes through a complex government system, and only permitted to move when they meet certain criteria. That being said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that there are harsh penalties for subletting through AirBNB. This is a very different government structure from the US, and their housing policy and penalties demonstrate that.

  4. If your lease says no subletting, then that’s a contract you signed and agreed to.
    Strange that owners/renters of such properties put ads on AirBnB, that’s plain stupid.

  5. I own my home and live in it, and I rent a spare room on Airbnb., and I still have issues with the local government here in Pennsylvania. It’s my home and homesharing should be my right.

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