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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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Sharon Price, owner of the legal B&B, Sharon’s Serenity, wishes more B&Bs were licensed and isn’t afraid of the competition.

The Law Has No Teeth

Sharon Price lives in a quiet neighborhood. Her single-level home sits on the bank of the Kaelepulu Stream overlooking Mid Pacific Country Club. For 23 years, Price has run Sharon’s Serenity, a legal B&B. Sporting a colorful tunic and bright-pink lipstick, the 70-year-old says she doesn’t feel threatened by the competition from illegally operating neighbors. “With my rates, I don’t have to worry about what they’re charging,” she says; she charges $80 to $95 a night, much lower than others, who charge from $125 to $225 a night. And yet she wants to see them get permitted. “It seems so silly to me that they don’t legalize more. I used to go to the Legislature and talk and I was finally told [last year] I’m beating a dead horse,” Price explains, sitting on the beige leather couch in her living room, her Shih Tzu, Bailey, on her lap. Trade winds rustle the trees outside, which surround her in-ground swimming pool.

On the north side of Oahu, Gary and Cyndie Quinn talk story with their visitors, a young couple from Australia. The Quinns own Santa’s by the Sea, a Christmas-themed B&B in Pupukea, and play host to a couple of hundred visitors every year. They keep the fridge stocked with juice, milk, muffins and condiments, offer a welcome book on the small kitchen table listing their favorite restaurants and activities, and have even painted, “May your days be merry and bright,” on a short wall fronting the kitchen.

For years, the Quinns, both former Pan Am and United flight attendants, dreamed of opening a B&B. Two years after they married, they bought a split-level duplex. After months of renovation, they opened their bed and breakfast in 1984, naming it after a Christmas craft fair they used to hold in their home. The Quinns were lucky: They started their B&B before the law kicked in. Today, Santa’s is the only legal B&B on the North Shore.

“It’s safe to say that there are a lot of people in Hawaii who could share the aloha on a more personal level if they were allowed to run bed and breakfasts,” says Gary, who also supports expanding B&B licensing.

Expanding B&B licensing is a perennial issue on Oahu. (It most recently made front-page news in August.) Each time the topic appears on the City Council’s agenda, vocal opponents storm Honolulu Hale and the bills rarely make it past a second reading. Why? Many residents in attractive, popular communities, such as Kailua or Haleiwa, staunchly embrace a “not in my backyard” mentality, and not just with B&Bs. They have beef with beach-access parking in Lanikai, a Haleiwa hotel development and the slated Target in Kailua. When it comes to B&Bs, they have the city’s poor enforcement-track record to back them up: Hundreds of owners have subverted the law for years, and have easily gotten away with it.

Larry Bartley is one of those unwavering B&B opponents. He is currently the vice chair of the Kailua Neighborhood Board (he was first elected in 1989). Throughout the years, Bartley, a mechanical engineer who says he only vacations at places where he can stay with family or friends, has amassed gigabytes of information and statistics to argue one of his points: The DPP doesn’t enforce the law and illegal rentals adversely impact the community.

Bartley says opponents’ main objection is “the city, with its lack of enforcement and the inability to know what’s going on behind closed walls,” he says. In 2005, he started the community opposition group Save Oahu’s Neighborhoods (SON), with the goal of “ending the war and getting our neighborhoods back,” he says.

Kathleen Pahinui has also been a long-time opponent of the illegal B&Bs and TVUs surrounding her North Shore neighborhood. She is the vice chair of the North Shore Neighborhood Board and is also a member of SON. As neighborhood advocates in attractive, coastal communities, both Pahinui and Bartley say they each receive a few calls every month from residents complaining of illegal vacation rentals. For Bartley, most of the calls come from Lanikai residents. Pahinui gets calls from Sunset Beach community members. Neither of them have B&Bs or TVUs in their own neighborhoods, however.

“It’s the loss of community, the loss of peace and quiet,” says Pahinui. She adds that her neighbors don’t like the rotation of short-term renters and complain of congested roads caused by tourists vacationing in illegal beachfront rentals. Bartley says residents adjacent to a vacation rental sometimes resort to calling the cops because of loud parties at 2 or 3 a.m.

Pahinui’s and Bartley’s disgust with unlawful vacation rentals spills over onto the licensed B&B establishments. “If you have your permit and you’ve had it since 1989, so be it,” says Pahinui resignedly. She even has a good friend who runs a B&B. But she claims that some owners pose as B&B proprietors “because they think it sounds better,” which is probably true, even if not all B&B owners are skirting the law.

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Honolulu Magazine May 2019
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