City works to refine search for illegal vacation rentals as new regulations roll out

(HNN File (custom credit))
Published: Jul. 31, 2019 at 9:58 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - As Honolulu officials prepare to start “digital stings” on Aug. 1 to curb illegal short-term vacation rentals, they’re also working to improve their search for potential violators.

The new law prohibits advertising for rentals of less than 30 days, unless the dwelling is in a resort area or has a Nonconforming Use Certificate.

Jerry Denis received one of the nearly 5,000 letters that the city sent out last week to possible vacation rental violators.

The Ewa Beach resident said he and his wife were stunned because they’ve never rented out their house.

After searching through online platforms, they said they found a vacation rental listing with a drop pin on their property.

They contacted the website, but said they’ve been unable to get the pin moved since they didn’t place the ad.

“We spent a lot of time working on this. A lot of stress,” said Denis. They’re making us take something off that we didn’t put on. (It’s) very, very difficult what the city is doing to us."

The couple also reached out to the Department of Planning and Permitting, which has logged at least 814 calls from people who said they received the letter in error.

Staff members were temporarily reassigned to handle the sudden surge in call volume.

The letter, which is not an official Notice of Violation, indicates that the property listed or one close to it, may be involved in short-term renting and advertising.

Violators could face fines of up to $10,000 a day.

“You’re innocent until proven guilty, at least that’s the way I thought it should be, but this letter is leaving the burden of proof on us,” said Sharon Denis.

Each caller’s claim will be investigated, and if they aren’t involved in illegal rentals, the city will remove their information from the list and notify them by mail, according to Kathy Sokugawa, DPP’s acting director.

The program that was used to come up with the addresses was developed in-house by the city.

The software was able to plot the drop pics used in online ads and tie real property information to the location, according to the city.

Sokugawa said a revised version of the program will now be used.

According to city officials, the number of vacation rental advertisements declined from about 5,000 two weeks ago to 4,150 earlier this week.

“We’re hoping that the bulk of people will come into compliance, and if nothing else, these letters going out is a clear message to everybody to come into compliance,” said Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell.

The city wants to make sure to double-check everything before sending out a Notice of Violation, so it may be a few days before any are issued, according to Sokugawa.

“We’re saying we can use your advertising as a way to come down hard on you. We’re going to be using that advertising to do that, we just gotta pinpoint more accurately those people who are doing it. Technology is there to do it, we just gotta refine it. This is our first step,” said Caldwell.

Under a second part of law, the city will begin issuing about 1,700 new permits for hosted Bed and Breakfast homes beginning in October 2020.

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