The Bed and Breakfast Battle in Hawaii

Illegal vacation rentals have vexed Kailua and North Shore residents for years. A new city bill purports to solve the simmering issue, but it still won’t be enough. The real problem? The city can’t enforce the current law. We tell you why.


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Oahu is not alone in dealing with this issue. B&Bs and vacation rentals also exist on the Neighbor Islands. Former Maui Mayor Charmaine Tavares took a controversial stance in 2009 when she signed a law allowing more B&B permits. But it placed a cap on the number of B&Bs in the various districts. For example, 100 B&Bs can operate in the Kihei-Makena district (there are currently 14), and 88 are allowed in the Paia-Haiku district (there are currently 19). Tavares went further and had authorities shut down illegal B&Bs and vacation rentals—a move that residents applauded but some local businesses and owners deplored. A lawyer who formerly represented the Maui Vacation Rental Association even tried to have Tavares impeached via petitions (the court sided with Tavares’ administration).

“I think at the end of the day … it was the right thing to do, because they could start with a clean slate,” says Pahinui. “No one wants to cause trouble, but, at the same time, it was getting completely out of hand. That’s what we should do [here on Oahu].”

Caught in the Fray

The city’s inability to enforce the laws for B&Bs and TVUs also harms those who pay taxes and abide by the law; legal B&B owners such as Price and the Quinns. Ironically, the DPP might not know if licensed operators are still following the law, such as only renting out two bedrooms to fewer than five guests for less than 30 days, and not making structural changes to the rooms they rent. Price says an inspector has never come to her property. Gary says an inspector came to Santa’s once, looked at the kitchen, then left. As long as they pay their taxes and turn in renewal papers, officials don’t ask questions they say. Owners can still face skepticism, though, and some legal B&B operators make a point of keeping off the radar, just to avoid being involved in this contentious issue. Some legal B&B owners declined to speak with us. Calls to illegal operations also weren’t returned—go figure.

However, honesty and respect has worked for the Quinns. “Our neighbors know we run a bed and breakfast and they’ve all been extremely accommodating and considerate,” says Gary. “On the other hand, we are also extremely conscious that we live in a neighborhood.”

It feels like an opportunity for everyone, if only the city would enforce it’s current law, if only the Carlisle administration would take action on the neighborhood controversy that’s been festering for decades, if only the illegal operations would go away, if only the NIMBY’s would cut the legit operations some slack. Hawaii still subsists off of tourism, and B&Bs offer an alternative to hotels and support local businesses.

“Let’s get it all cleaned up, then we can maybe have the conversation about where and when,” says Pahinui. “It’s not like we hate tourism, it’s not like we hate tourists, that’s not the point. The point is that everything has a proper place and everything has to be in balance.”

By the Numbers

1989: The year the B&B law was enacted. 49: The number of legal B&Bs on Oahu. 826: The number of legal TVUs on Oahu. 13: The number of DPP inspectors who investigate vacation rental violations. 20-30: The number of complaints the DPP receives each month, according to Mike Friedel.

 

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