The History of Hawai‘i From Our Files: Illegal Vacation Rentals Plague Residents
HONOLULU Magazine emerged from predecessor Paradise of the Pacific, which began in 1888, fulfilling a commission by King Kalākaua. That makes this the oldest continuously published magazine west of the Mississippi with an enviable archive worth diving into each month. Here’s a look back at September 2011.
Oh, illegal vacation rentals, you vex us so. No matter how illegal the city makes them, the problem lies with enforcement. “The city Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP), the office tasked with overseeing the regulations, has been shoddily enforcing the law for years and, as a result, the number of illegal rentals has skyrocketed,” HONOLULU writes in 2011, the same year that Airbnb revenues jumped from an estimated $8.4 million to $52.8 million in a single year. “The city’s failure to effectively implement the 22-year-old regulations also means that it loses out on hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines every year, as well as tens of thousands of dollars in taxes and fees if more B&Bs were to be legalized.”
Those in favor of licensing more B&Bs to benefit the economy have it rough: “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,” HONOLULU writes. “Why? Many residents in attractive, popular communities, such as Kailua or Hale‘iwa, staunchly embrace a ‘not in my backyard’ mentality, and not just with B&Bs. They have beef with beach-access parking in Lanikai, a Hale‘iwa 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.”
And there are those who don’t want rentals at all, due to the noise, road congestion and loss of community. Though that hasn’t changed much over the past decade, in June of 2019, a new bill regulating short-term rentals became law. “After 30 years, illegal short-term rentals had been banned,” HONOLULU writes in a 2020 feature on illegal rentals. “Really banned. Really really banned.” There were still some sneaking through, of course, but not nearly as many.
Then a 2020 moratorium on short-term rentals banned any of them from operating at all for more than six months during the pandemic, whether legal or not, followed by a memorandum of understanding among Honolulu, Airbnb and Expedia Group, parent company of VRBO, that allows the platforms to operate rentals only if they comply with rules from the DPP. Will it stick this time? If not, you’ll hear about it from us again soon.
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