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Honolulu City Council committee advances measure targeting illegal vacation rentals


The Honolulu City Council Zoning Committee took up the contentious issue of short-term vacation rentals once again Thursday, approving an amended bill that includes some concessions to opponents of the measure.

But many owners of vacation units say the bill is still unnecessary, as the city already has an ordinance on the books to deal with the issue.

Bill 41 was proposed by the Blangiardi Administration to further crackdown on illegal short-term vacation rentals in areas such as Kailua. Some residents have complained that tourists disrupt neighborhoods, bringing noise and congestion.

Opponents of the initial bill slammed its provision to change the minimum amount of time vacation units can be rented from 30 days to 180 days. They also criticized a proposed registration fee that would apply to legal rental units in resort districts, but not to hotels.

Among the amendments made by the committee was a reduction in the minimum time units can be rented — from 180 to 90 days. Some fees were also reduced.

During public testimony, many opponents urged the council to fully enforce Ordinance 19-18, passed in 2019, which sought to eliminate illegal rentals.

Vacation unit owner Michael Brant says that law gives the Department of Planning and Permitting the necessary tools to deal with the issue.

"The basic problem is that Bill 41 is misguided. It’s not that DPP lacks the enforcement, the statutory authority to handle the preservation of neighborhoods. They haven’t been able to effectively use that authority," Brant said.

During the hearing, DPP Director Dean Uchida said there are seven enforcement positions created by Ordinance 19-18 that are currently unfilled.

Uchida also responded to concerns that terms of a memorandum of understanding with online rental platforms such as Airbnb and Expedia to enforce Ordinance 19-18 were not implemented.

He said the issue was not relevant because the online platforms stopped talking with the city once Bill 41 was introduced.

In response, Expedia Group says it supports the reasonable regulation of vacation rentals, and has continued to reach out to DPP and the council to discuss Bill 41.

Supporters of the measure say Bill 41 will close loopholes in Ordinance 19-18 and help ease the housing crunch on the island.

Stu Simmons says the bill will help curb tourism sprawl.

"It follows sound and reasonable zoning and land use principles. It protects and preserves residential zoning and permanent housing," Simmons said. "It eliminates many of the loopholes that have allowed illegal rental units to skirt the law; specifically, the use of fake 30-day leases by illegal vacation rental owners and managers."

Another controversial aspect of the bill that would raise property taxes on bed and breakfasts and short-term vacation rentals has been cut.

Zoning Committee Chair Brandon Elefante says that will be dealt with in another measure.

The measure will now go before the full council for a second reading on Wednesday, Jan. 26. Want to submit written testimony about this measure? Click here.

Scott Kim is a news editor at Hawaiʻi Public Radio. Contact him at skim@hawaiipublicradio.org.
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