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Honolulu doubles down on illegal vacation rentals despite court battle

Rick Blangiardi.jpg
Casey Harlow
/
HPR
Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi addressed the city's next steps in addressing vacation rental properties. U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson issued a preliminary injunction stopping the city from preventing anyone from renting a property for less than 90 days.

Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi addressed the city's next steps in regulating short-term vacation rentals on Thursday.

Earlier this month, U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson issued a preliminary injunction on the city's latest vacation rental law. The injunction focuses on one aspect of the law that increases the minimum amount of time a unit can be rented without a permit from 30 to 90 days.

"We're going to defend the 30 to 89-day ban as part of our long-term zoning plan," said Blangiardi. "I was disappointed, but we will continue to defend that."

Blangiardi says the city will not be appealing the judge's injunction. However, requirements to legally operate a vacation rental and the enforcement of the law are not impacted by the judge's ruling.

"It was our intent, when we asked for the 90 days, to try to stimulate owners of these properties to take longer-term rentals, in part because we had such a housing crisis going on. There are local families in need of places to stay and rent, and those properties would come off the market," Blangiardi said.

Starting Monday, Oct. 24, the city will double down on its enforcement efforts.

"We raised the level of fines... So if we discover that you're advertising, you have an illegal vacation rental, your fine will be $5,000 — and we're going to give you a day to take it down," Blangiardi said. "If you persist, and you keep it up, it will go to $10,000 a day thereafter."

If the fines are not paid, Blangiardi says the city will put liens on those properties.

To enforce the new law, the Honolulu Department of Planning and Permitting has hired seven full-time personnel to investigate complaints and properties, and enlisted a computer monitoring service that will sweep 60 websites.

"It's going to be able to identify for us, names and addresses and everything else that we need to know," the mayor said. "We're also working, as I think I mentioned, with Airbnb and Expedia."

According to Blangiardi, between 10,000 and 14,000 homes on Oʻahu were used as short-term vacation rentals in 2019. More than 10 million visitors came to Hawaiʻi that year. Of that, more than 6 million came to Oʻahu.

"That's just not an acceptable situation," Blangiardi said. "The software technology combined with a dedicated enforcement team, it's a big leg up. And it's not anything that we ever had before from enforcement."

Blangiardi vowed his administration will give more resources to DPP if necessary to enforce vacation rentals.

"I want to make it very clear today. This is something that we are adamant about on a going-forward basis," Blangiardi said. "I don't care what hasn't happened in the past. I care about where we are now, and what we do going forward, and what it represents for the people of our island, on Oʻahu."

The city will launch new resources for residents and vacation rental owners on Monday. Residents can call a new hotline at 808-768-7887 if they suspect a property is operating as an illegal vacation rental.

Rental property owners in exempted resort-zoned areas can begin to register their property with the city as part of a requirement to operate legally. But owners must pay a $1,000 registration fee.

The law also restricts new vacation rental permits to resort-zoned areas such as Waikīkī and Ko Olina. The measure was passed by the Honolulu City Council in April.

Casey Harlow is an HPR reporter and occasionally fills in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered. Contact him at charlow@hawaiipublicradio.org or on Twitter (@CaseyHarlow).
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