Legalizing all B&Bs would compound the problem
The City Council is considering a proposal that would allow unlimited bed-and-breakfast units in residential neighborhoods.
One way to reduce illegal activity is to legalize it. That is what the City Council is considering in allowing unlimited bed-and-breakfast rentals in residential areas, having failed to bring unlicensed ones under control. Instead, the city should step up enforcement of the existing law to prevent some neighborhoods from being converted to resort areas.
Council members Donovan Dela Cruz and Barbara Marshall proposed the legalization two years ago, saying that enforcement of the law had been "nearly impossible" and the activity had "proliferated to the point where illegal rentals are blatantly advertised." Proposals that would lift the ban on bed-and-breakfast establishments on Oahu but place more requirements on their operators are being considered for approval by the Planning Commission before they move to the City Council.
The city banned new "transient vacation units" -- entire houses for short-term rent -- and bed-and-breakfasts -- rental of bedrooms -- in 1989, grandfathering and issuing permits for 141 existing rentals on Oahu. Permitted B&Bs on the island have dwindled to 51, while a 2005 Internet search found 9,000 vacation units in the state. The Council last year increased daily penalties for illegal vacation rentals from $50 to $1,000 and collected fines totaling nearly $500,000 during the first six months of the year.
Most of the owners advertise their rentals on the Internet but "go cryptic and try to stay as unidentifiable as possible," said Michael Friedle, the city's code compliance chief. However, while addresses are not included in those ads, telephone numbers are. Identifying and locating the owners shouldn't be impossible.
The state Tax Department reported earlier this year that 68 companies operating vacation rental houses and B&B units owed $1.5 million in tourist accommodation and general excise taxes, and 237 others were under investigation. Legalizing them will not necessarily cause them to obtain permits, because that would subject them to the taxes.
The proposals would continue to limit transient vacation units to those that were grandfathered in 1989. It would require that they include in their advertisements the addresses and certificate numbers, which is likely to result in the rogue owners continuing to be regarded as cryptic and unidentifiable.
Many homeowners have been irritated by increased traffic and noise caused by vacationers renting bedrooms or houses in their neighborhoods. Gov. Linda Lingle has reported receiving complaints by Kailua owners about B&Bs "turning their nice residential community into one where people come and they are partying all day and night. People ask whether they are paying their appropriate taxes." The Council proposals can only make the neighborhoods noisier and the traffic more congested.
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