A city proposal aimed at reining in short-term vacation rentals on Oahu cleared another hurdle at a Honolulu City Council committee meeting on Wednesday. 

The latest version of Bill 41 would prohibit the booking of short-term rentals for fewer than 90 days – up from the current 30 days – in most areas of the island. It would also impose new restrictions, fees and fines. Council Zoning Chair Brandon Elefante’s committee draft passed third reading in the zoning committee and is now headed to the full council for a final vote. 

Under the bill, rental bookings that last fewer than 90 days would only be allowed on Oahu in resort areas as well as certain apartment precincts in Waikiki mauka of Kuhio Avenue, areas located near the Ko Olina Resort and in a single apartment district near the Turtle Bay Resort on the North Shore. 

The bill would prohibit unregistered rentals from advertising daily rates, require non-conforming rental units in residential areas to limit visitors to four adults and require an off-street parking spot for each room rented.

Kaimuki homes along Sierra Drive and Wilhelmina Rise.
Critics of short-term rentals say Airbnbs and the like have disrupted residential neighborhoods and taken up valuable housing stock. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

The bill has garnered support from the hotel industry and residents who want to keep vacationers out of residential neighborhoods. But it has also attracted strong criticism from short-term rental operators who argue a law passed in 2019, which would have allowed the licensing of 1,700 new short-term units, was more fair. 

“A new law will not fix an existing ordinance that is not being enforced,” Daniel Boothby, who rents out his Waianae condo for part of the year, said during the meeting.

Resident Christine Otto Za told council members that it’s upsetting to see people from the mainland and abroad fight against the crackdown.

“They are people and businesses who don’t need to absorb the consequences of what they’re asking you all to do to protect their investments,” she said. “They don’t care that you have to deal with a housing crisis and homelessness.” 

Honolulu City Council member Brandon Elefante listens to teleconferenced public testimony at a council meeting held at Honolulu Hale.
Honolulu City Council Zoning Chairman Brandon Elefante worked with the administration to remove some of the bill’s more controversial provisions. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2021

Critics of the bill have also voiced concern that a 90-day booking period would unnecessarily burden residents traveling between islands, college students, traveling medical workers and others who don’t want to stay in hotels. Exceptions for these groups were considered but are not in the current version.

Councilwoman Andria Tupola opposed the 90-day rule, saying in proposed amendments that she supports the current 30-day requirement, but that suggestion lacked support. 

The original version of the bill, introduced by Mayor Rick Blangiardi’s administration, received major pushback. As written, it mandated bookings of at least 180 days and would have required short-term rental operators in condo-hotel buildings to hire the hotel’s management company.

The administration’s original proposal also would have allowed short-term rentals in apartment-zoned areas of the Gold Coast near Diamond Head; required rental operators to notify property owners within 250 feet that the dwelling is being used as a rental; and obtain supplemental insurance coverage. 

The city backed off some of those proposals earlier this year, and Elefante’s measure strikes those items.

“I think the proposed (bill) is a significant improvement and addresses concerns raised by testifiers,” Council Vice Chair Esther Kiaaina said at Wednesday’s meeting.

The bill mandates a $1,000 initial registration fee and a $500 renewal fee for short-term rentals — much less than the mayor’s initial proposal of $5,000 annually. Elefante had proposed reducing the administration’s suggested fees to $2,000 and $1,000 respectively, but Kiaaina urged bringing the price tag down even further. 

The operators will already be paying higher transient accommodations taxes, higher property taxes and could face increased fines, she said. The purpose of the fee should be to cover the cost of the government service being provided, she said.

“They should not be treated any differently than any other process the city operates,” Kiaaina said of short-term rental operators.

Kiaaina also proposed that visitors of non-conforming units be banned from parking on public streets near the units and suggested a provision that would require hosting platforms to “exercise reasonable care” to confirm that units are operating lawfully prior to providing booking services.

All of her amendments were adopted into the version of the bill that passed out of committee. 

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