Executives from the lodging website Airbnb have removed some campsite listings from the site in response to Hawaii’s attempt to crack down on illegal campsite rentals advertised online.
The company says it took down seven camping ads that may have been for sites in public parks. The ads represent a small slice of the company’s 10,000 rental listings in Hawaii.
“While we take this issue very seriously and it is a violation of our standards and expectation here in Hawaii, we think the issue is being overblown,” said Cynthia Wang, public policy manager for Airbnb. “We’re dedicating resources so that when we become aware of one we investigate it and remove it.”
Critics say such ads can easily pop up again because people can re-advertise using a different name.
Lawmakers and residents have complained that families now have more competition for inexpensive vacation accommodations because campsite permits for public parks are being resold by online brokers for higher prices.
A bill in the state Legislature aimed to end that practice by requiring online brokers such as Airbnb to verify that their listings are legal.
Officials in other areas such as New York also have taken aim at illegal short-term rentals.
The popularity of “glamping,” or glamour camping, has grown as more people seek luxury amenities in the outdoors. Pitching a tent on a beach that does not allow camping is illegal, and Hawaii bans reserving a space in a state park and reselling the camping permit, as does Honolulu with its county parks.
State Sen. Donna Mercado Kim (D, Kalihi Valley-Moanalua-Halawa) said Airbnb should require people who advertise rentals on its website to get verification from the county that the customers are operating a legitimate, legal rental.
“There needs to be some responsibility,” Kim said. “I’m not saying they have to hire an investigative team and they’ve got to go out and knock on somebody’s doors, but they have to have a thing where they say yes, I have this verification.”
Wang said Airbnb doesn’t have the ability to prescreen listings, which are uploaded by users in a way similar to YouTube or Facebook.
Airbnb has 2 million listings in 34,000 cities, each with different laws, and many of those regulations haven’t been updated in at least a decade, she said.
“Other than Kauai, I’m not aware of any counties that have updated their laws to even address the new phenomenon of what we call home-sharing,” Wang said.
The bill’s initial purpose was to allow online brokers such as Airbnb to collect taxes on behalf of people advertising private rentals on the websites. It was recently amended to also require verification that the listings are legal.