How is Hawaii’s short-term vacation rental market holding up with the coronavirus restrictions?
The pandemic has been devastating for the tourism industry, including legal vacation rentals on Oahu and across the state. Many families in Hawaii have been significantly impacted by the lack of tourism, some more directly than others. The vacation rental industry supports a diverse group of people and businesses including property management companies and their staff, house cleaners, maintenance and yard-care businesses, and so many others. In addition, visitors that stay in vacation rentals often frequent local eateries and shop with local retailers, which have also suffered because of the lack of tourism.
The return of trans-Pacific and interisland travel with Hawaii’s Safe Travels program, along with the reopening of legal vacation rentals on Oahu, has allowed some of these hard-working local entrepreneurs to reopen their businesses. We are all cautiously optimistic that continued compliance with the program will keep our communities safe while allowing a moderate reopening of business. That said, the number of flights into the state is still quite low and thus we are still a long way from a full recovery.
Vacation-rental critics complain that unhosted properties like transient vacation units are businesses improperly operating in residential-zoned neighborhoods. How do you respond?
ROH (Revised Ordinances of Honolulu) 21-4.110-1 limits vacation rentals on Oahu in residentially zoned areas to properties that have a nonconforming use certificate, and strictly prohibits the expansion of unhosted short-term rentals of under 30 days in residential areas. HILSTRA supports the intent of this law and feels that proper enforcement of it is an excellent deterrent for new vacation rentals in residential areas. That removes the opportunity for big investors to pop up and run mini-hotel type operations, which we agree can deteriorate our neighborhoods and communities. We are, and always have been opposed to these illegal operations who treat our neighborhoods like hotels.
That said, the fact is that the majority of Oahu’s legal vacation rentals are not in residential areas, but rather in resort zones such as Waikiki, Ko Olina and Turtle Bay. We firmly believe that vacation rentals in resort zones are a core part of the travel economy. Those zones were specifically designated to accommodate short-term travelers, and to restrict or otherwise discriminate against vacation rentals in resort zones seems like a violation of the intent of those areas.
Should the city Department of Planning and Permitting invest more in enforcement against illegal vacation rentals?
One of the fundamental reasons we created HILSTRA was to bring together legal property management companies. We want to work hand-in-hand with the various county departments to put together smart policies and enforcement around the vacation rental business.
We feel that the most successful way to remove the stigma surrounding vacation rentals is to work together with the enforcement agencies to determine which properties are operating illegally and work to close those operations.
During the public hearings for City Council bills 89 and 85, members of our team were able to