Rules for Airbnb this year

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KOTA KINABALU: The City Hall (DBKK) plans to come up with the regulations and guidelines for online marketplace and hospitality service Airbnb within this year.

Its planning department director Stanley Chong Hon Chung said the City Hall has had several discussions with lawyers, the Lands and Surveys Department, and the Housing Controller, and would probably invite professional bodies as well when formulating the guidelines for Airbnb.

At present, Chong said City Hall is considering Airbnb activities as a lodging house, which is to provide short-term rental for sleeping accommodation to lodgers or travellers.

He said Airbnb activities are only allowed on lands zoned for commercial or commercial mixed use only.

Operating Airbnb services on residential zoning lands is strictly not permitted, he said.

As City Hall considers Airbnb activities as a lodging house, operators would be required to comply with the Hotels and Lodging Houses By-Laws 1966, which requires a licence.

Additionally, he said, Airbnb service providers are also required to comply with the Fire and Rescue Department’s (Bomba) technical requirements, such as having a fire sprinkler system and emergency staircase, in order to operate on a commercial zoned land.

“At the moment, operators will have to follow (these regulations) as we do not have (specific) regulations or guidelines for Airbnb yet,” he said.

Chong said this in his presentation on City Hall’s planning guideline for Airbnb at the fifth Sabah International Surveyors’ Congress organized by the Royal Institution of Surveyors Malaysia (RISM) Sabah branch here yesterday.

He said City Hall would take action against operators if they failed to comply with the technical requirements set by City Hall for lodging houses.

“We will send (the offenders) a notice and ask them to stop (operating) to avoid complaints of creating nuisance to the public,” he said, adding that the offenders also risked being hauled to court.

On whether Airbnb could operate in ‘serviced apartments’, Chong said the term was ambiguous but City Hall is in the process of finalizing the definition for serviced apartments.

Although serviced apartments could be interpreted as commercial units, he said, the Housing Controller has deemed such premises for residential purposes only.

“It is up to the design guideline whether it (serviced apartments) are fit for residential or lodging,” Chong said.

He said many serviced apartments were called Small Office Versatile Office (SOVO) or Small Office Home Office (SOHO), but in order to operate lodging services, these units have to comply with the Hotels and Lodging Houses By-Laws 1966 and Bomba’s safety requirements.

Chong said,City Hall has received applications from developers to operate Airbnb in serviced apartments or to develop SOVO or SOHO.

“Even if the development is designed as serviced apartments but technically suited for residential purposes, we will not allow this (Airbnb) activity.”

He said City Hall would haul the offenders to court like what happened to the service apartment business at Waikiki Condominium in the past.

Nonetheless, Chong said, City Hall is expected to come up with the guidelines for Airbnb within this year, which would subsequently be presented to the State Government through the State Cabinet for consent.

“After we have obtained the State government’s consent, we will announce the guidelines on what is allowed and not allowed for Airbnb,” he assured.

He said Airbnb could be a nuisance if not properly managed or failed to comply with the rules and regulations. But if managed well, Airbnb can help boost the accommodation facilities for tourists, he said.

Earlier in his presentation, Chong said, the future guidelines for lodging house, or Airbnb, would entail reviewing and updating the existing Hotels and Lodging House By-Laws 1966; Land (Subsidiary Title) Enactment 1972; apartment, serviced apartment and lodging house planning requirements; and the Bomba’s requirements for lodging house.

He said the Housing Controller or Ministry of Local Government and Housing also play a role in providng new standard for Sales and Purchase Agreement and to categorize the licence for apartment, serviced apartment and lodging house development, adding that government tax had to be taken into account as well.