Singapore— On Monday, November 4, several Members of Parliament expressed concern over the burden put on homeowners to ensure that the properties they rent out will not be used as pop-up brothels or other venues of vice.
These concerns came about upon the passing of the amendments to the Women’s Charter Bill, under which a homeowner who rents out property, or a tenant who subleases it, for the purpose of prostitution, will be held criminally liable if they cannot prove that when they rented or leased out the area, they did not know or could not determine with “reasonable diligence” that the venue would be used for the purpose of prostitution.
Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Home Affairs Sun Xueling said that the authorities would collaborate with the Council for Estate Agencies (CEA) for drawing up guidelines that would ensure property agents are able to assist owners and tenants meet these “reasonable diligence requirements.”
Lee Bee Wah, MP for Nee Soon GRC, said, “A respectable local or foreigner with all their paperwork in order could rent the place and then lie low for the first few weeks of occupancy, before beginning their operations behind the back of the property owners,” Channel NewsAsia (CNA) reports.
MP Louis Ng also pointed out that while exercising due diligence sounds “good on paper,” he asked how a homeowner would perform “reasonable diligence” aside from directly questioning whether the prospective tenant is a sex worker?
He added, “If the home owner or tenant drops by and finds that the tenant or sub-tenant is having sex with another person, how do they determine whether or not that is a vice activity?”
Ms Sun answered by saying that the responsibilities of owners, tenants and other parties involved have been made clear in the amendments.
She gave the examples of homeowners needing to conduct identity checks and face-to-face interviews with possible tenants.
“This is necessary because syndicates commonly exploit the lack of checks at the point of leasing by misusing identity documents in order to secure premises for vice activities,” Ms Sun said. Syndicates have at times used false identities, even those of dead people, for the purpose of renting property.
She also said that the number of pop-up brothels has been growing, particularly in residential estates, and police have heard numerous complaints from residents where this has occurred.
Ms Sun said that in the years of 2015 and 2018, seven out of every 10 women arrested for online vice had been prostitutes working in residential estates.
“The proposed approach in the Bill for owners and master tenants to exercise reasonable diligence at the point of entering into tenancy agreements is not too onerous, and is something many are already doing today,” she added.
While prostitution is legal in Singapore, brothels must obtain a license to operate. Should any operator fail to comply, they could be fined up to S$10,000 or face five years jail time. -/TISG