Real estate agent

Why a former real estate agent was fined less than S$1.25 million in earnings for subletting apartments on Airbnb, HomeAway

WHY HE RECEIVED A FINE LESS THAN HIS INCOME

Chan pleaded guilty to nine counts under the Planning Act, with the remaining five counts being considered. Each charge was tied to a unit he rented.

Under the law, Chan was liable to a fine of up to S$200,000 per charge as a first offence.

During sentencing, District Judge Lau Qiuyu said she was guided by a similar case in the High Court in 2020. In this case, a former real estate agent was also fined for a similar scheme, but on a much smaller scale.

She explained that the fine has two parts – a restitution component and a punitive component.

The restitution component refers to repayment of ill-gotten gains, and the punitive component is punishment.

In her judgment, the judge assumes, as in the previous case, that “all income represents the profits of the offender”, and the court will only allow a deduction for “necessary expenses”. These are the expenses that enabled the offender to commit the offence.

The defense requested that the following amounts be deducted:

  • Lease payments S$266,400
  • Stamp duty 2,753 Singapore dollars
  • Security deposits S$53,600
  • Cleaning and laundry costs (estimated) S$26,400
  • Utilities (estimate) S$44,750
  • Furniture (estimated) S$66,637
  • Air conditioning maintenance S$7,440
  • Painting of premises S$37,600
  • Transport costs – unclear

The Crown and the court agreed that rent and stamp duty should be deducted as “necessary expenses”.

They also agreed that payments totaling S$52,000 to Zhao were also such an expense, even though the defense did not claim it.

But the court and prosecution disagreed with the defense on other costs. In some cases, the evidence was not sufficient and the court ruled that the other expenses were not necessary.

In considering the punitive element, the judge found the level of harm in this case to be “slight”, as there was no evidence of “tangible or appreciable harm or loss caused”.

But Chan’s culpability was found to be in the ‘medium’ category – he was primarily motivated by profit and the duration of the offenses was ‘fairly long’.

“The business model in this case was quite sophisticated…Chan did not own any of the properties rented out for short-term accommodation,” the judge said, adding that this business model was self-funded with high returns.

His guilty plea and cooperation with authorities were also taken into consideration for the punitive component of the fine.

CHAN’S $1.158 MILLION FINE:


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