Short-Term Rental Rules Stumble at Honolulu Hale

May 8, 2019

Members of the Honolulu City Council heard feedback from more than 100 residents on two proposals to restrict short-term rentals.
Credit Ryan Finnerty

After months of debate, the Honolulu City Council was poised yesterday to approve new rules that would have restricted short-term rentals on Oahu. But after more than eight hours of public comment and deliberation, councilmembers sent two proposals back to committee for revisions.

A vote would have marked the culmination of a process that began almost a year ago. The problem facing lawmakers was a stark one: how to balance the often-competing interests of businesses, property owners, affordable housing advocates, and neighborhood residents.

Of the two bills being considered, one would allow a limited number of short-term rentals in neighborhoods; around 1,700 islandwide. The other would ban them anywhere outside of resort areas like Waikiki.

Members of the public lined up to testify before the City Council.
Credit Ryan Finnerty

Former Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie urged council members to support the stricter measure, saying Oahu was “on the edge of an explosion of illegal vacation rentals.” Abercrombie cited a recent New Yorker magazine article highlighting the experiences of other tourism-centric cities.

Property owners and managers lined up by the dozens to oppose the bills. Many predicted an economic calamity if temporary vacation units are restricted.

Terry Lodge, who owns a small cleaning business primarily servicing vacation rentals, said it would likely be the end of his and many other small businesses. He employs 13 people, with plans to increase that number to 30.

Councilmembers Kymberly Pine and Tommy Waters confer during public testimony. Pine repeatedly expressed dissatisfaction with how the process of amending the proposals was handled.
Credit Ryan Finnerty

Expedia Group, which owns booking platforms VRBO and HomeAway, estimates the restrictions on short-term rentals will threaten 7,000 jobs and 1.2 billion dollars in economic activity on Oahu.

After more than six hours of often angry and confused public testimony, council members retreated behind closed doors to confer with city attorneys.

Council member Kymberly Pine repeatedly expressed her feeling that the process had been rushed and vocally noted confusion over the multiple versions of each proposal.

That sentiment was echoed by many residents in their public comments before the council. More than 100 people spoke before the council over a six-hour period.

At around 8 p.m., council members emerged from executive session to announce both bills would be sent back to the Zoning and Housing Committee for revisions.

No date has been set for a hearing.