CHIANG RAI, 18 May 2018: Thailand is tightening the screws on illegal short-term holiday rentals and Airbnb is caught in the cross hairs.
A report in Manager Online this week says a court in Hua Hin ruled it was illegal for people to rent out their rooms on a daily or weekly basis.
While Airbnb was not specifically mentioned in the Hua Hin cases the home-share system has grown to the point where Thailand’s legally registered hotels are calling foul.
Reports of district authorities enforcing the hotel act for apartment rentals have increased since 2016 with some Airbnb community members seeking clarification from the home-sharing site on the legal status.
However, the crackdown is not particularly focusing on online home-sharing, but rather owners of condos, or apartments, who engage in daily rentals. Earlier in the month, authorities in Pattaya arrested seven individuals for operating what were described as illegal hotels (lacking permits or failure to abide reporting laws). Just one of the properties was an apartment building.
The latest court ruling was citied in a letter from the local district office to the owner of Wan Vayla condominium complex in Hua Hin identifying the ruling in three cases where condominiums were rented out for less than a month.
Alarm bells are now ringing if you rent out a room on a daily or weekly basis. However, the law that protects registered hotels has been on the books for a considerable time and there examples of it being more rigorously enforced since 2016, across-the-board. It is not particularly targeting online-home shares.
In the past, hotel and tourism legislation was largely ignored but not any more. That has changed possibly due to the rising popularity of Airbnb and other systems. There has also been a pushback from apartment owners in building where units are rented out on a daily basis.
In 2017, owners at a popular condominium in the centre of Chiang Rai complained to the city authorities that one of the owners was renting units on a daily basis. A British citizen, he owned the ground floor restaurant, a travel agency and units on the second floor. The city posted a notice ordering him to end all daily rentals, or face prosecution. He closed the entire floor and shuttered the ground floor shops and restaurant.
Thailand’s hotel industry, through the Thai Hotel Association, has been lobbying to tighten the hotel law and enforce it more robustly. Hotels are legally entitled to rent out rooms for daily, weekly and monthly rates.
The long-stay rental market is open to apartments, private residences that are not registered as hotels. Homestay comes under a different ruling.
The law has been on the books for years, but that has not stopped Airbnb from amassing an inventory of 61,400 establishments across the country and earnings estimated at THB 4 billion on 1.2 million users n 2017.
AirBnB in Thailand claims its service is legal, but the facts are that daily and weekly rentals are reserved territory for registered hotels.
Even AirBnb was less than helpful when one a property owner posted on its website’s community page a request for clarification. A year passed and no response.
“Our apartment building has recently put up threatening signs about short-term stays. The sign says ‘that day/week rental are illegal. It also states that travellers who do not report to the juristic person will be treated as a trespasser and reported to the nearest police station to be prosecuted by maximum law. It also asks other residents to notify the juristic office if they believe people are staying in the building on day/week rentals.
“As owners, I am not really worried about the sign. However I am worried about the effect on our guests.
Since the sign has been put up, the security guards are asking many more questions. The last guests who stayed with us said that they did not feel comfortable staying in the building.
“Can you please advise what we should do as we want to keep a good relationship with Airbnb? We have stopped accepting bookings until we receive s advice. We could cancel all the bookings, but we would be penalized financially by your website and lose our super host status. Even if we are not breaking Thai law, the building could make the experience uncomfortable for our guests.”
Airbnb did not respond to community member questions and comments on this subject.
“Notification of residence of foreigners for businesses
According to section 38 of the 1979 immigration act, “House owners, heads of household, landlords or managers of hotels who accommodate foreign nationals on a temporary basis who stay in the kingdom legally, must notify the local immigration authorities within 24 hours from the time of arrival of the foreign national.” If there is no immigration office in the province or locality of the respective house or hotel, the notification is made to the local police station. In Bangkok, the notification is made to the Immigration Bureau. The notification of residence of foreign nationals is made by the manager of licensed hotels according to the hotel act, owners of guesthouses, mansions, apartments and rented houses using the form TM. 30..
The notification of residence of foreign nationals within 24 hours can be made in a number of ways to make the notification as convenient as possible”