The Apartment District of Waikiki is a zone in which residents are supposed to be protected from all the issues related to short-term vacation rentals. In the Apartment District, a special permit called a nonconforming use certificate (NUC) is required in order to operate a short-term rental (STR), and NUCs are scarce.

I live in Waikiki Lanais, a condominium building located in the Apartment District. There are no NUCs in Waikiki Lanais, but it is full of illegal STRs.

When my wife and I moved into Waikiki Lanais over 10 years ago, there were families here, a morning coffee group met in the resident manager’s office, trick-or-treaters went door to door for Halloween candy, we had a festive holiday or New Year’s potluck, and the governance of the building ran smoothly. It was really nice.

But, once online rental platforms like Airbnb took off, everything changed. Suddenly we had a new kind of owner who never planned to live here or vacation here themselves, but who only intended to operate STRs for profit. Now, there are almost no families, no coffee group, no Halloween trick-or-treaters, and we just had our first holiday without a potluck.

Waikiki Beach Hotels visitor industry aerial.
Waikiki. It’s a tourist destination, but it is also home to locals opposed to short-term rentals. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

Our board meetings are nightmares of insult throwing and lawsuit threats. Our laundry room is full of house cleaners laundering sheets and towels, our driveway is clogged with drop-offs and pickups, our elevators are full of travel groups and their suitcases, our lobby and hallway walls have to painted continuously to remove suitcase scuffs, there are about 100 lockboxes outside which contain access fobs for people who register rooms over the internet.

Many of our neighbors, sometimes seven or eight people in a two-bedroom unit or four to five people in a one-bedroom unit, are rotating strangers to us. And all of this is illegal, but is happening because the city Department of Planning and Permitting does not have the tools it needs for enforcement.

Notice of Violation

DPP made a heroic attempt to investigate our building in particular, but well-organized STR operators responded forcefully. They informed their renters to either lie or refuse to answer any questions, they accused the DPP of harassment, and they lobbied to refuse to give the DPP an access fob.

They know that the DPP needs copies of lease agreements, which short-term renters almost never have, to issue a Notice of Violation. They know that even if they receive a Notice of Violation, the fine is so insignificant that it can easily be covered by profit from a single weekend. They know that neighbors who challenge them are helpless, answering accusations with statements like “are you the DPP?”

Visitor suitcases lined up at the author’s residence. Scott Robertson

The City Council’s Committee on Planning is currently considering several proposed bills to regulate vacation rentals. These proposed bills have many good features, such as use of online advertisements as prima facie evidence of STR operation, increased fines, making it a criminal offense to lie to city inspectors, and enabling neighbors to take violators directly to civil court.

However, a critical flaw is that most propose to allow STR permits to be issued once again in the Apartment District of Waikiki. In fact, Bill 89 says that in an attempt to achieve “balance,” the city would allow 50 percent of the units in a multifamily dwelling to operate STRs.

This is completely antithetical to the idea that the Apartment District is a place where some people in Waikiki can live in peace. Imagine a noise ordinance that allowed 50 percent of cars to honk their horns.

Imagine a drinking age rule that said 50 percent of a bar patrons could be underage. It’s ridiculous and completely undermines the intent of the regulation. By all means, the City Council should give the DPP and citizens the enforcement tools they need. But it should not at the same time render it all pointless by opening the floodgates to STRs in the Apartment District.

What’s the point of having the Apartment District if the density of STRs will be the same as other Waikiki districts? It’s not going to break the economic engine of the state (as STR operators claim) to keep the Apartment District largely free of transient vacation renters, or at least at the same level as proposed for areas outside of Waikiki, which is 1 percent.

I ask the Planning Committee and City Council to please give a break to those of us who bought property here in good faith that the city would live up to its zoning regulations and protect our neighborhood and buildings.

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