Airbnb bookings illegal, court rules

This promotional poster is from the Royal Thai Embassy in Washington, but the hugely popular short-term rental app may be on the way out after hostile court rulings. (Main photo via thaiembdc.org)

People who rent out their rooms through Airbnb on a daily or weekly basis are acting illegally, according to a recent court ruling at Wan Vayla Condo in Hua Hin district of Prachuap Khiri Khan province.

The court ruled that the people renting out their rooms had not obtained a license to run a hotel business under the Hospitality Act 2004. Only rentals of 30 days or more would be legal.

Parties affected by the ruling include condo owners who rent out their rooms through the Airbnb app on a daily and weekly basis to Thai and overseas guests.

Condominium owners fear that following the ruling, authorities will strictly enforce the law and no longer allow them to operate their business through Airbnb, leaving no chance for customers to find accommodation through the app.

According to media reports, the Wan Vayla Condo in Khao Tao received a letter from local authorities outlining the court’s decision in two of the three cases in which condos were rented for less than a month.

In one case, the court decided that a fine of 5,000 baht should be paid plus 500 baht for each day of the 20-day stay, making a total of 15,000 baht.

In the second case, the court ruled that a fine of 5,000 baht should be paid with an additional fine of 100 baht for a staggered period of 81 days. The total amount of the fine is 13,100 baht. The third case is ongoing.

Local authorities looked into the case in December 2017 and took the case to court. The first case was tried on January 5 and the second on January 16. Decisions in both cases have only recently been made public.

The rulings, if implemented nationwide, could be the beginning of the end for companies like Airbnb in Thailand, which have always said their business is legal in the kingdom.

Airbnb is actively promoting its business in Thailand and the consequences of the decision could be immense for the company, tenants and consumers.

The Wan Vayla condo is located on 20 rai of land in the Khao Tao area.

Meanwhile, the Thai Hotels Association (THA) has called on the government to revoke unregistered hotels, including Airbnb apartments and condominiums. They say these operators are causing problems for the country’s tourism industry.

Surapong Techaruvichit, an adviser to the THA, said the association wanted the government to invoke Section 44 to address the issue.

“We believe the number of unregistered properties will decrease if the government enforces Section 44,” he said.

According to him, more than half of the hotels in the market are unregistered hotels, in other words illegal hotels.

Illegal hotels include serviced apartments, guesthouses, condominiums and other private properties available for rent to tourists.

These properties are not registered as hotels with the Department of Local Government which approves and issues hotel licenses.

He said the THA sees Airbnb as a new threat to the hospitality and tourism industry.

Warangsuk Wittayapanyanond, a Dubai-based flight attendant, said she believed if Airbnb was banned in Thailand it would limit tourists’ choice.

She said that since many people prefer Airbnb over booking rooms in hotels, there should be a way to allow Airbnb to operate legally and accommodate customers who prefer to use the site.

Luka Stankov, a Dubai-based cabin crew member who frequently uses Airbnb, said:

“I think [Airbnb] affects hotels. It’s exactly the same as when Uber came out. There was a huge protest against Uber by the taxi unions. So the government banning Airbnb in Thailand must have something to do with the hospitality industry. They may need to lower prices and give customers more choice. In a way, the creation of Airbnb lowers hotel prices and expands customer choices. Airbnb is more independent and offers a different experience,” Stankov said.

Airbnb representatives are rumored to be meeting with Thai government officials on Saturday to resolve the issue.

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