Hardly a day goes by when I don’t get an email asking about the legality of Airbnb in Hong Kong. Is it legal, illegal or some kind of grey area? We know that Airbnb use is exploding in Hong Kong, with tens of thousands of homeowners and savvy entrepreneurs using it as a secondary source of income in what is an already numbingly-expensive city. Surely they can’t all be breaking the law?
As it stands, the Hong Kong Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance has not updated their laws to the current climate. A quick call to their information hotline tells you that it is illegal to operate a guesthouse for periods of less than 30 days rent without a guesthouse licence. A guesthouse licence, to those unfamiliar, is a licence to operate a hotel and regulates fire exits, minimum corridor space, food safety and a host of other criteria clearly intended for legitimate hotels. But surely letting out your apartment while you’re on holiday is not the same as operating an shady guesthouse?
The reality is that people are voting with their wallets and making the existing laws unenforcable and outdated. Other countries around the world have seen that homesharing is not going anywhere anytime soon and adjusted their property laws to allow for this. There are thousands of listings currently available on Airbnb.com’s Hong Kong site, from gigantic villas in Repulse Bay to poky one beds in Sham Shui (and even a few boats thrown in). Enforcement is also an issue for the authorities as Airbnb listings do not provide a precice address until a guest has paid for the stay. Many in the legislative council have also argued that Airbnb encourages micro-entrepeneurship and alleviates the deepening hotel shortage in Hong Kong.
For the average host they can be reasonably assured that the authorities will not care much about their operation on Airbnb. There exists, however, savvy commercial hosts who operate many properties in the city. Recently an Airbnb host was revealed by a local news investigation to operate 22 properties on airbnb, earning them $190,000 per month income letting out properties to tourists. Such figures are apparently quite common in a fast-paced market like Hong Kong with so many international visitors.
It seems, then, that Airbnb is here to stay and the Hong Kong government will just have to get used to it. There may come a time in the not-so-distant future when hosts may have to even pay taxes or charges in order to let out their homes. For now though, it seems that the numbers using the site speak volumes and the authorities will just have to get used to it. Remember that Airhome HK will evaluate and list your property for FREE if it is your first time using Airbnb! We are launching our company in July and will be providing management services to anyone wishing to let out their home in Hong Kong.