'We Are Going To Be Enforcing,' Says Caldwell On Vacation Rental Law

Aug 6, 2019

The City and County of Honolulu will enforce its new vacation rental law, despite an ongoing legal challenge. That was the word from Mayor Kirk Caldwell on Tuesday.

At a press conference outside Honolulu Hale, the mayor pushed back against reports that the city would delay enforcement action until the court case had been settled.

“That is absolutely not correct. We are going to be enforcing Bill 89,” Caldwell stated matter-of-factly.

Some 5,000 letters were sent to suspected violators of the new law in July, informing them that their property was listed on a short-term rental booking platform in violation of Honolulu’s new ordinance.

Although some of those addresses were found to have been erroneously identified, city officials report that around 2,000 listings have been removed from websites like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO since the letters went out.

Targeting advertisements has become the cornerstone of Mayor Caldwell’s crackdown on unpermitted vacation rentals, the vast majority of which have been illegal since the 1980s.

FILE - Mayor Kirk Caldwell signed Bill 89 into law after spending more than a year drafting the new rules and hearing hours of public comment.
Credit Ryan Finnerty / HPR

But enforcing the 1989 law proved difficult and costly. Bill 89, which passed the City Council in June and Mayor Caldwell signed into law shortly thereafter, aims to change that. It allows authorities to target vacation rental advertisements, rather than trying to catch owners in the act.

The law, officially named Ordinance 19-18, has already been challenged in federal court by a group calling itself the Hawaii Vacation Rental Owners Association. The group’s attorney, Gregory Kugle, characterized the law as “flawed, unfair, and illegal.”

Addressing reporters, Caldwell cautioned that these early actions represented only the first steps in targeting violators of Oahu’s short-term rental rules.

Kathy Sokugawa, acting director of the city Department of Planning and Permitting, said the first otices of violation could be sent as soon as this week.