Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi sent a clear message to operators of short-term vacation rentals on Thursday, saying city officials would implement new technology and activate a bigger team of inspectors to go after people renting properties for fewer than 30 days in residential neighborhoods.

A new ordinance that takes effect on Monday also gives the city the power to fine violators $10,000 per day, and the mayor said the city would impose those fines, adding that Honolulu would target illegal short-term rentals with “as much aggression as possible.”

Blangiardi’s announcement comes a week after a federal judge issued an order stopping the city from enforcing a provision of the ordinance that makes it illegal to rent a residential property for less than 90 days instead of 30, which is now allowed. Groups supporting the 90-day rule this week filed to intervene in the case.

Mayor Rick Blangiardi announces new registration process and a $10,000 per day fine for violators.
Mayor Rick Blangiardi vowed to continue to fight illegal short-term rentals on Oahu.ounces new Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Blangiardi said the city will continue to fight for the 90-day minimum. He said he is conferring with the city’s lawyers about the next step in light of U.S. District Court Judge Derrick Watson’s preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of part of the ordinance. But, Blangiardi said, “We’re prepared to take this as far as we have to take it.”

In the meantime, he said the city can impose other provisions of the new ordinance, including the $10,000-per-day fines.

For decades, Honolulu land-use ordinances have restricted using residential properties as short-term vacation rentals, except in some parts of Waikiki and Ko Olina, referred to as resort zones. But the popularity of platforms like Airbnb led to an explosion of vacation rentals. While the rentals were popular with homeowners and investors, residents in some neighborhoods complained about the influx of tourists and the resort-like ambience they brought to formerly quiet communities.

More broadly, Blangiardi said, the boom in vacation rentals had led to a boom in tourists – and an ensuing backlash from residents who increasingly said they believed Oahu was being run for tourists and not residents.

The new measure also imposes new restrictions on short-term rentals operating in condominium hotels in resort zones. Blangiardi said they will be allowed to continue operating if owners register them with the city.

Demonstrators in opposition to Bill 41 hold signs on King Street near Honolulu Hale.
Demonstrators opposed the new ordinance when it went before the City Council. Cory Lum/Civil Beat/2022

Gregory Kugle, the attorney for the Hawaii Legal Short-Term Rental Alliance which has led the legal challenges against the ordinance, said Blangiardi’s announcement raises numerous questions.

For instance, he said, the registration system for condo-hotels doesn’t go online until Monday, and depending on how long it takes to register, many owners could be unregistered and facing potential fines if there are delays in being able to register.

Perhaps more important, he said, it could be hard to determine whether guests have rented properties for fewer than 30 days.

Kugle said he and the city’s lawyers had discussed a settlement in which the city would grandfather in properties that had been doing 30-day rentals and allow them to continue to operate that way, while imposing a 90-day minimum on new properties. But the talks ultimately failed, which led to Watson’s order.

Kugle estimates that there are about 1,000 properties that would qualify to be grandfathered. Leaving only those operating short-term would mean fewer short-term rentals than the 14,000 Blangiardi cited.

“Even if you have 2,000, that’s going to be 90% of what he wants,” Kugle said.

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