EXCLUSIVE: Kailua has most illegal vacation rental violations

EXCLUSIVE: Kailua has most illegal vacation rental violations
Published: Feb. 23, 2016 at 10:15 PM HST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2016 at 7:03 PM HST
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Illegal Kailua vacation rentals (Image: Hawaii News Now)
Illegal Kailua vacation rentals (Image: Hawaii News Now)

KAILUA, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The city of Honolulu has begun a crackdown on illegal vacation rentals, and inspectors have found the most violations so far in Kailua.

But the man in charge of the effort and a longtime member of the Kailua Neighborhood Board said the number of violations discovered is tiny compared to the thousands of illegal rentals on Oahu.

People in neighborhoods around the island have complained about illegal vacation rentals for three decades and the city has always said it lacked enough inspectors to fully investigate.

The Honolulu City Council set aside $300,000 to hire five inspectors on contract who started finding violators last month.

The mainland owners of the beachfront home at 23 Kalaka Place on Kailua Beach has charged visitors about $800 a day and just received a violation notice last week from the city saying it's operating illegally.

If the Chicago-based owners of the home don't stop short-term rentals within 30 days, they will face $1,000-a-day fines from the city.

It's one of eight Kailua homes -- of the 20 so far island wide -- that have been cited over the last month or so. That's a large number of violations this year so far compared to 37 violations in all of 2015.

"They have to cease operations, basically. So, they have to stop renting them out for short-term vacation rentals," said city Planning and Permitting Director George Atta. "A few dozen only scratches the surface, right?"

Atta admitted there's a long way to go because a recent study estimated there are 3,700 illegal vacation rentals on Oahu, but he said the crackdown is having an effect.

"Some people will just stop operations. 'Ok, we got a notice of violation. We got caught.  We're not going to do it anymore.' Others will try to hide and do it and our inspectors have to go back and check to see if there's been compliance," Atta said.

Larry Bartley has lived in Kailua for 31 years and has been a member of the Kailua Neighborhood Board on and off for the last 25 years.

"So you see that the five inspectors, with their current mode of operations, are going to have a difficult time ever catching up. And we think it's a runaway situation," Bartley said, who's a member of a community group called Save Oahu's Neighborhoods, a nonprofit he formed ten years ago to push for stricter enforcement against illegal rentals.

Bartley said he was speaking for himself and not representing the neighborhood board.

On Pali One Place in Kailua, two illegal bed and breakfasts right next to each other received violations last month. One of the operators told Hawaii News Now she already canceled 18 reservations over the next seven months that would have paid about $175 a night.

Other Kailua illegal rentals were discovered on Kaapuni Drive, Kaumana Place, Kaimi Street, Kainui Drive and Kuupua Street, city records showed.

Kailua Neighborhood Board members said the most violations were found in their neighborhood so far because the board has come up with a way to make it easier for people to turn in their neighbors.

"The Neighborhood Board would act as a conduit to get these complaints in front of the city," Bartley said.  "Because a lot of people are hesitant to turn in their neighbors or turn in the house next door, which is typically not their owner that owns it, it's typically a mainland owner or someone who doesn't live in that house."

The other violations included two illegal rentals each in Kaneohe and Haleiwa, with one each in Kahala, Waimanalo, Waipahu, Kaaawa and Hauula, according to records released by the city.

Atta, who runs the city department that handles enforcement, said the five contract employees brought back out of retirement have more flexibility to visit rentals early in the morning, at night or on the weekends, when they are more likely to catch tourists at illegal rentals.

Atta said it was more difficult for full-time unionized inspectors to adjust their schedules and often cost overtime, making after-hours investigations difficult.

"They (the contract employees) have a lot of discretion as to their time, because one of the complaints we got quite often was, ''Oh yeah, you send your inspectors in the middle of the day.  These guys are out tourist-ing and of course they're not there," Atta said.

Only vacation rentals that have been "grandfathered in" and have been operating since 1986 are legal. There are about 830 of those on Oahu, according to city records.

There's currently no city permitting process for the thousands of illegal operators to become legal.

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