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The rules for short-term vacation rentals are under revision again at the Honolulu City Council

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The Honolulu City Council passed out to committee Wednesday a bill that would further crack down on illegal short-term rental units — like those advertised on Airbnb and Vrbo. But some councilmembers expressed dismay over confusion about a key provision in the measure.

Bill 41 was filed in response to continued complaints from residents in areas like Kailua and Waimānalo who say illegal vacation rentals are bringing traffic congestion, noise, and crime to areas not zoned for them.

The city’s Department of Planning and Permitting says illegal vacation rentals are also negatively impacting the number of affordable housing units on Oʻahu.

Dozens of vacation home operators testified against the bill, blasting it as a misguided measure that will hurt legitimate business while doing nothing to solve the problem.

Councilmembers voted 7 to 2 to send the bill to the zoning committee for further review.

Councilmember Andria Tupola voted no, saying there is confusion about what version of the bill they are reviewing — particularly regarding provisions on enforcement.

"Maybe we need to start from square one and say, 'Hey, we got to take enforcement and handle that now and see where all of our pukas are.' Because I have a list of illegal ones in my district and those ones haven’t been enforced," Tupola said.

"So I think we just need to be mindful of that, that it’s not just that we understand it or the department understands it, it’s also our community members that we are going to have to communicate very clearly to about what’s going on with that," she said.

Opponents of the bill are particularly upset by a provision that would force rental owners in condo-hotels to use the hotel’s management company, instead of being able to seek out their own. They say this measure is designed to benefit the hotel industry — at their expense.

They also oppose a provision that would prevent owners from renting out units for fewer than 180 days. Current law allows for rentals for 30-day periods.

The bill would also raise the property tax rate and various fees on vacation rentals.

Zoning Committee Chair Brandon Elefante acknowledged confusion about the bill.

"At this point in time, this is just first reading. I’ll be voting in support, but do know Mr. Chair, and to my fellow colleagues, that we will take input from everyone, we will have further meetings, and yes, there is a lot of cleaning up to do with this measure going forward," Elefante said.

The City Council approved a similar measure, Bill 89, two years ago after months of debate. The measure set up steep fines for illegal vacation rentals.

But many opponents say enforcement measures in that bill have not come to pass, and this new measure will make legitimate vacation rentals too expensive to operate.

Read below the full draft of Bill 41, as of Nov. 10, or click here.

Scott Kim was a news editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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