The Honolulu City Council should give full consideration to a proposal on short-term rentals from the Caldwell administration.

While it is not a panacea to Oahu’s affordable housing shortage, the proposal, from the city’s Department of Permitting and Planning, could result in several thousand homes being taken off the tourist market and instead used by residents.

That would be particularly beneficial in places like the North Shore, where Airbnbs and their ilk clog the neighborhood and skirt regulations and taxes.

Mayor Kirk Caldwell predicts that, if adopted and implemented, there will be no more unhosted vacation rentals on the North Shore except for areas already zoned for apartments and mixed use.

Rentals, however, would be allowed in owner-occupied homes. If a homeowner chose to operate a bed-and-breakfast or vacation unit, the rental would be required to be registered with the city. That would make it easier to keep track of them, making enforcement easier.

A screen shot of an Airbnb posting. The proliferation of short-term rental units demands regulation but also transparency. 

And what if a homeowner breaks the law? A $25,000 fine for the first offense, which the bill calls for, could prove a strong deterrent.

The bill, which has yet to be assigned a number, awaits a city Planning Commission hearing Sept. 5. Council Chairman Ernie Martin says his chamber will give the bill an opportunity to be heard through the normal legislative process.

The bill is not perfect. Companies like Airbnb will likely fight its passage while advocates for affordable housing will warn that plain greed will lead to corruption. Others will say the city should just create better ways to enforce the current law.

But short-term rentals have proliferated far beyond what was envisioned in the nearly 30 years since Oahu first regulated them. It is estimated that there are as many as 10,000 dwelling units at any given time on the island, far more than is permitted under the county’s Land Use Ordinance. And many travelers want an alternative to a hotel.

Caldwell’s bill attempts to strike a balance. It allows absentee landlords to rent out short-term vacation units, like condos, outside of resort zones; such rentals are now illegal.

But it prohibits those rentals in residential neighborhoods. And, by having the vacay units registered with the city, it will be easier to crack down on the noise, traffic and parking that have come with unregulated facilities.

At the same time, the bill lets homeowners just about anywhere supplement their income by renting out a room or two in their homes. That can only lead to an improved “quality of life,” a stated purpose of the bill.

Let’s have this discussion.

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