Hawaii Just Made It a Whole Lot Harder to Book an Airbnb

The mayor of Honolulu signed a bill that could eliminate thousands of vacation rentals

Hawaii Just Made It a Whole Lot Harder to Book an Airbnb

Last month, we rounded up seven places with inhospitable home-sharing regulations.

It mainly focused on cities like Amsterdam and Santa Monica that have spent the last few years grappling with the rise of “profit object” vacation rentals. That qualifier refers to apartments and homes, often listed on Airbnb, that are part of a transient affair in which off-site hosts maintain the property through cleaning crews and digitized lockboxes, with a new party of visitors arrives every few days.

The most common defenses against the concerning trend include occupancy taxes, limits on the minimum number of days guests can rent, mandates that hosts must live on the premises and permit applications. Hawaii recently put its faith in that last option, as Honolulu’s Mayor Kirk Caldwell formally signed a bill last week that will allow for just 1,715 hosted bed-and-breakfasts on the island of Oahu.

For a little perspective … there are currently an estimated 8,000 “illegal” vacation rentals on Oahu. The island stopped giving out permits over 25 years ago, but hosts have opened up properties in areas without resort designation (everywhere not called Waikiki, Ko Olina or Turtle Bay) ever since without much consequence. But in the Airbnb era, the strain on local communities has proven too much. The Honolulu City Council voted unanimously to pass this new measure.

Interestingly, the same machine that created the recent tension — online bookings — will prove crucial in enforcing Oahu’s new restrictions. Later this summer, Hawaii will be able to launch “digital stings” to deduce whether advertised properties have actually earned a license. All properties with a registered permit number must include it on their listing page, a practice that’s been used with success in Japan. If hosts decide to just blow off the new rules, they could face some serious trouble. The first fine is $1,000, and each day after is an additional $5,000. Unless you’re renting out a literal Xanadu, chances are those fines will put you in the red with a quickness.

As for how this affects your trip to Hawaii? Either stay in a resort area or look closely for those permit numbers when you’re not. As a visitor, you can’t actually get into trouble for staying in an unlicensed property, but Honolulu officials could pull the plug on an illegal property at anytime, including while you’re staying there. It’s not worth the headache on your end. And keep in mind you probably won’t be staying in a whole home to yourself, as licensed rentals on the island are all hosted.

So if it’s a private honeymoon you’re after, go the resort route.


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