Honolulu City Council panel OKs 2 proposals to crack down on illegal vacation rentals
A bill allowing about 1,715 newly permitted hosted vacation rentals on Oahu but no new whole-home transient vacation units won 4-0 approval Friday from the City Council Zoning, Planning and Housing Committee, setting up the measure for a final thumbs-up from the full Council in the coming weeks.
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A bill allowing about
1,715 newly permitted hosted vacation rentals on Oahu but no new whole-home transient vacation units won 4-0 approval Friday from the City Council Zoning, Planning and Housing Committee, setting up the measure for a final thumbs-up from the full Council in the coming weeks.
A second bill, which would simply crack down on the thousands of illegal vacation rentals and offers no path for them to become legal, also moved out 4-0.
But more Council members have indicated they favor a more even-handed approach to the divisive and highly charged issue, so it’s more likely the nine-member Council will favor Bill 89 (2018), allowing both stricter enforcement and the distributing of some new permits for the first time since 1989.
Any rental of less than
30 days is considered a vacation rental and is prohibited unless specifically permitted or in a designated resort zone. No new permits have been issued, and there are currently 816 legal ones outside of resort zones. The city Department of Planning and Permitting estimates there are 6,000 to 8,000 illegal vacation rentals.
A slew of mayors and Councils have grappled with the issue the past three decades without adopting any new laws, frustrating both supporters and opponents
of vacation rentals as the number of illegal rentals have proliferated.
Vacation home advocates say they offer a more personal visitor experience that’s growing increasingly popular while providing a chance for homeowners to pay their bills. Opponents say they’ve taken away needed housing and wreaked havoc within individual neighborhoods.
Council Zoning Chairman Ron Menor, who co-authored the approved drafts of both bills, said the issue has spiraled out of control in the past three decades. “It has resulted in negative impacts in our communities,” he said. “And I believe solutions are long overdue and that the Council needs to take decisive action now to address the problem.”
Final passage of either bill in current form would be a serious blow for vacation rental platform giants Airbnb and Expedia, as well as operators of the residential vacation units, who’ve warned that either would result not only in the loss of thousands of jobs, but would severely
injure the entire visitor industry and the overall economy.
The latest draft of Bill 89 specifically calls for:
>> The permitting of up to 0.5% of all the dwelling units in each of the island’s eight development plan districts, some of which are called
sustainable communities plans. The Department of Planning and Permitting estimates that comes out to about 1,715 new permits in all, or about 214 in each region. The registration fee would be $1,000 annually.
>> Allowing only hosted vacation rentals, defined by DPP as bed-and-breakfast
establishments. No permits for new whole-home rentals, defined as transient vacation units, or TVUs, would be
>> Imposing stricter civil fines of between $1,000 and $10,000 daily for those who violate the new short-term rental laws or continue to
advertise falsely, and hosting platforms who fail to register and report those who advertise with them.
>> Prohibiting more than one bed-and-breakfast home within a 1,000-foot radius of any other B&B.
>> Eliminating so-called “30-day vacation rentals,” where a whole home is rented for a period of less than 30 days, even when the owner chooses to not rent to anyone else in that period.
>> Requiring a B&B operator or owner to give neighbors within 250 feet a phone number they can call
24 hours a day with any complaints about the business.
Councilman Brandon Elefante, who noted that he was only 3 when the Council last passed legislation on vacation rentals, said he prefers Bill 89 because it would provide enforcement tools for DPP while allowing a limited number of new permits.
“The (visitor) industry has changed, I totally understand that,” Elefante said. “But at the same time, we do have zoning districts for particular reasons.”
Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said whatever the Council passes “is never cast in stone” and can be changed through a new ordinance. “The important thing is to get legislation passed that will enforce what we want to enforce to protect our neighborhoods,” she said.
Councilwoman Heidi Tsuneyoshi, who is not on the committee and did not vote Friday, said her top priority is ensuring housing is available to longtime local families.
About 100 people testified over more than eight hours Friday.
Realtor Mary Lavoie-Olson said more than 12,000 jobs could be lost if either of the bills passes. Operators “are just local people trying to get by, renting out the back room,” she said. “Let them rent out that back room.”
But Ala Moana Hotel worker Gina Alcos, a member of the hotel employee union Unite Here Local 5, said she and others have fought hard to earn what they now make but that vacation rentals have cut deeply into the market and caused layoffs. While vacation rental advocates warn of the loss of jobs if they go away, “you’ve taken jobs from us” and forced those laid off to take minimum-
wage jobs supporting vacation rentals.