CIty Council: It's time to get a handle on illegal vacation rentals

City council considers new regulations for vacation rentals
Updated: Oct. 26, 2017 at 8:17 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The Honolulu City Council is once again trying to get control of the growing vacation rental industry and crack down on illegal units.

"Because of the complexity of this issue, we have chosen to do nothing. But we need to work towards solutions. It's very clear that we're losing the Hawaii we know, but we also want to ensure residents can keep their homes," said Councilwoman Kymberly Pine.

The council's Zoning and Housing committee considered four different proposals Thursday.

One imposes new regulations on vacation rentals and allow neighbors to take legal action against these rentals.

It also requires websites like Airbnb to submit reports with addresses and owner's information to the City.

The company's lawyer says that's against federal law.

"The Communications Act says that you can't get this information that is private without a warrant or some court process," said David Louie, attorney for Airbnb.

The other measures would limit the number of permits to be issued for new transient vacation units and bed and breakfasts on Oahu.

There was emotional testimony on both sides of the debate.

Many property owners and managers say vacation rentals are a valuable industry that employs thousands of people and are an important source of income for some residents.

"Airbnb has been a saving grace for me and to pay my mortgage," said Airbnb operator Kathryn Reed.

Opponents argue rentals are a nuisance in neighborhoods and take away much needed housing from locals.

"I'm all for home sharing. Share your homes with local residents who live here," said one of the testifiers.

It was said many times Thursday that enforcement against illegal vacation rentals must be a top priority.

"Unless we can adequately enforce, it really doesn't matter what we say is legal or illegal because the illegal activity will continue," said Eric Gill of Local 5.

The city says enforcement efforts against illegal vacation rentals have been extremely difficult because its hard to confirm if a renter is there less than the legal minimum of 30 days.

"It took a lot of hours for relatively few violations. So the issue is not more inspectors. The issue is better tools," said Kathy Sokugawa, acting director of the Department of Planning and Permitting.

Sokugawa says the department is considering other methods to help address the illegal activity, such as stiffer penalties, higher fines, maybe even the threat of foreclosure.

"Its to be used as a deterrent for not doing it to begin with," Sokugawa said.

The committee agreed to move all four proposals forward to the Planning Commission to further the discussion.

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