B&Bs need permits with regulations


POSTED: Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The unregulated bed and breakfast (B&B) industry operating in many of our neighborhoods is currently a topic of hot debate at City Council hearings.

As a councilmember, my desire is to resolve the problems that have dogged this issue for far too long.

The B&B issue is similar to the prohibition of alcohol that our country tried many years ago — the industry went underground and was unregulated.

The ban on new B&B certificates in 1989 put any new B&B rentals “;underground,”; where they've operated without regulation for 20 years now.

The lack of regulation has raised the emotional pitch in many neighborhoods, particularly in Kailua, where small groups have formed to shut down B&Bs operating without certificates. This has bred animosity between neighbors, with some arguing that B&B rentals are inappropriate in residential neighborhoods while others argue that renting a portion of their home is their right as a homeowner.

The City Council is considering a measure (Bill 7, CD 1, Version No. 2) that would once again allow B&B certificates on Oahu with guidelines and enforcement policies.

The proposed ordinance would hold B&B owners accountable for the way their B&B is operated. The owner must live on the property and would be limited to one certificate.

Written house rules would spell out to guests that they must obey the same noise control laws that apply to all of us. Off-street parking for guests is another requirement.

The bill also contains advertising rules that require a permit number to be displayed. This will ensure that legal B&Bs can be identified with ease and that anyone who attempts to operate a B&B without a permit will be more easily identified. Fines of up to $5,000 per day can be imposed on those who violate rules.

The bill also allows the Department of Planning and Permitting — the B&B permit issuing authority — access to the home to investigate any alleged violation of the rules

In 1989, residents opposed to B&Bs expressed fears of allowing rentals of less than 30 days in residential neighborhoods. The Council recognized that there was merit in having B&Bs in our neighborhoods, but voted to grant nonconforming use certificates (NUCS) only to B&B owners already operating at that time. Anyone who did not receive a permit in 1989 was then unable to get one. Approximately 50 B&Bs with certificates are still in existence. In 1989, there were 141 certificates issued.

Some say that allowing B&Bs in residential neighborhoods is “;spot zoning.”; However, conditional-use permits are issued to owners in residential neighborhoods for many reasons. This would simply be another permissible use of a property in a residential neighborhood. In addition, the bill addresses concerns that B&Bs will proliferate by restricting an owner to the operation of only one B&B at a time. There would also be enforcement laws in place to deal effectively with B&B owners that don't follow the rules.

The key to making B&B rentals work for everyone is to have proper management, reasonable regulations and effective enforcement tools. It's not the length of time that someone rents that really matters. Residents, landlords, and long-term tenants can also be disrespectful of neighbors. Cars belonging to tenants and residents are parked all over the streets. Residents and long-term tenants can make plenty of noise and come and go at all hours of the night and day. What it really comes down to is proper management and the responsibility of all of us to be respectful of our neighbors.

Homeowners and long-term tenants do create the fabric of our neighborhoods, but the fact is that B&B rentals already exist and have existed for many decades.

These are not new enterprises. Independent studies show there has been no significant increase in the number of B&Bs since 1989.

It's time to take an underground industry and bring it in line with city regulations, proper enforcement, and appropriate taxation.


City Councilmember Rod Tam's district includes Makiki, downtown, Liliha, Pauoa Valley, Nuuanu and Kalihi. He wrote this commentary for the Star-Bulletin.