Operators, neighbors clash over plans to curb vacation rentals
It's standing room only at a city zoning committee meeting Thursday morning to figure out how to best deal with the thousands of illegal vacation rentals that have allowed to operate in Oahu's neighborhoods for several decades.
HONOLULU - The online booking platforms for vacation rentals have created issues in neighborhoods no one ever expected.
This summer, agents with the Drug Enforcement Agency say 12 pounds of methamphetamine was delivered to a home on Wilhelmina Rise. According to court records, it was booked a man who booked the unit on Airbnb.
Not comfortable with that criminal element on your street?
Across town on a quiet street in Nuuanu it's been a case of wrong address.
One family said it's tired of having people keep showing up at their home trying to check in. They aren’t renting.
"Not only once, maybe five times. It was 9pm we try to go to the bed, someone knocked the door, ring the bell," said Nuuanu resident Jihee Aoki.
These are a few reasons why some neighborhoods don’t want to see the city legalize any more vacation rentals and are urging a crackdown on the thousands of illegal rentals already operating.
The Honolulu City Council is looking at four different measures to try and tackle the problem.
They range from legalizing just Bed and Breakfast units, or hiking the property taxes for vacation rental operators.
The administration said right now, 90 percent of its complaints come from whole home rentals, at a time when the state is in a housing crisis.
"The council needs to be very, very careful if they are going to allow more rentals in residential areas. How is that going to be enforced, because rights now it’s happening everywhere without enforcement and we need to be careful of our housing for our local residents," said Sen Laura Thielen.
Airbnb opposes all four measure. It hired a former state attorney general to plead its case.
It warned any bill could run afoul of federal laws holding online platforms liable for content, or forcing them to turn over list of operators without due process.
It also believes a measure allowing residents to take their neighbors to court is a bad idea.
"That is very problematic area because you are going to pit neighbor against neighbor,” said David Louie.
Supporters of Airbnb and the vacation rental industry wore hats and stickers to the hearing.
Some included property managers and cleaning companies who say the bookings help Hawaii's economy.
Steven Connell said he rents part of his Kailua home for 30 days at a time and would like to see that relaxed.
He's hoping for a compromise.
"We need some kind of permitting process to allow vacation rentals. Right now there is no permitting process so you have a chaotic situation," said Connell.
Others said the proposed rules are still behind the times, and don't address other things like home swaps, or home exchange.
"I home exchange my house all the time. That's how we travel. I go to Europe, Canada, because we switch houses. This doesn't let me do that," said Cedar Kehoe.
The Department of Planning and Permitting said it supports stiffer fines for re-occurring violations. It is considering a fine of ten thousand dollars with no room for negotiations.
“The first re-occurring violation might be $10,00, the second reoccurring would be $50,000 and the third one might be foreclosure," said Acting Director Planning and Permitting Director Kathy Sokugawa.
The department said at last check, it issued 90 violation notices, out of 3,000 vacation rental complaints.
But, it still could not say how soon it would be ready with its enforcement proposal.