New Proposals to Legalize Vacation Rentals, Hike Taxes and Fines

HONOLULU –

Some say it’s the lack of city enforcement, and the practice of letting scofflaws off easy on fines that has changed the landscape of vacation rentals on Oahu.

Bitter battles have been long fought in neighborhoods in East Honolulu as well as Kailua and Lanikai, but it’s been particularly rough in the area that Councilmember Ernie Martin represents.

“My district has more than any other combined,” said Martin.

That’s why North Shore lawmaker has proposed a package of bills and resolutions to try and tackle the growing controversy.

He proposes stiffer fines and fatter tax bills, but he also wants to legitimize illegal operators as a compromise.

Martin believes his approach could work if the council can agree on a reasonable number of new permitted B and B’s and vacation rentals.

“Once we determine what is a reasonable number we can be very aggressive with enforcement so those who chose to operate underground we can shut them down as soon as possible,” said Martin.

But a watchdog group doesn’t buy it.

“They want permitting without proven enforcement which we oppose for the last 10-12 years. We want to see what enforcement works before any permitting,” said Save Oahu’s Neighborhoods spokesman Larry Bailey.

Bailey acknowledges communities from Kaneohe, to Kaaawa are feeling the brunt of the explosion. He calls it a disaster area, but complaints are starting to surface in about activities in Kapolei, Kaimuki and Kalihi.

“We see it as a Trojan Horse. You haul in a bunch of more people and make them legal and you still won’t be able to enforce on the illegals, and you won’t be any better off than you are now,” said Bailey.

Martin not only wants to have separate classes of property tax for Band B and vacation rentals but wants to hike the fines from the current 1000 dollars to $5,000 for first time offenders.

He believes with our tourist based economy, something needs to be done.

“For example in Haleiwa town, there are lots of businesses who are successful because of this. I can tell you, if we were to be very aggressive and shut these places down a lot of business would suffer severely,” said Martin.

Martin said he also recently sat down with representatives of Airbnb to talk about a segment of the community they aren’t addressing and those are travelers with disabilities.

Martin also told KITV the Caldwell administration is working on an enforcement bill of its own. It’s not clear when the proposals will be scheduled for hearings.

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