This Hawaiian island is cracking down on short-term rentals for visitorsSasha Brady

If you’re visiting the Hawaiian island of O’ahu and want to live like a local by renting out an apartment or house in a residential neighborhood, you may have to rethink your plan and go down the traditional route of booking a hotel room instead.

Airbnb and other short-term letting agencies face an uncertain future in O’ahu after Honolulu City Council approved a bill to increase the minimum bookings on short-term rentals in residential areas from 30 to 90 days.

For a destination hard-hit by problems associated with overtourism, including the rising cost of rent, those in favor of the bill hope the new rules will increase housing supply for long-term rentals in an island where apartments are hard to come by. Advocates also hope it will reduce the number of transient occupants in residential areas.

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The 90-day minimum will apply to rentals in residential areas © Getty Images

In an interview with Honolulu Civil Beat, Director of Honolulu’s Department of Planning and Permitting (DPP), Dean Uchida, said officials want to restore “some sanity” back into residential neighborhoods.

“Through the pandemic, we saw what neighborhoods became after keeping out all these vacation rentals,” Uchida said. “I think residents really appreciated that.”

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While short-term rentals under 90 days or three months will be banned in residential areas, they will still be permitted in resort areas such as Waikiki, near Ko Olina, and Turtle Bay, and specific areas surrounding them.

In a statement, local housing group Keep It Kailua, said it supports the bill, claiming that short-term rentals have had a disruptive impact on residential neighborhoods and exacerbate the current housing crisis.

“Not only is there a shortage of homes for local families, but the cost of residential-zoned homes and long-term rentals is simply unaffordable for most residents. Vacation rentals in residential zones increase the number of tourists who visit O’ahu to unsustainable levels and promote tourism sprawl,” it argued.

People can seek short-term stays in resort areas such as Waikiki © Peter Unger / Getty

Not everyone agrees that this is a step in the right direction. The overall feeling of those who oppose the bill is that it pushes out those who rely on short-term rentals for work or essential reasons.

Robin Erb, Regional Director for World Surf League Hawaii, said a lack of affordable short-term rental options could have a negative impact on the local surfing industry, particularly during competition times when international surfers and judges arrive in town for quick stays . “90 days is simply unworkable for our surfers and our workers,” he told Hawaii News Now.

In a written testimony to the Council, the League pointed out that “there is not a single 90-day period within the North Shore surf calendar that justifies any traveling surfer or worker staying 90 days on O’ahu.”

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In a statement supplied to Lonely Planet, Airbnb said it encourages the Council to make exceptions for tenants such as medical workers, military personnel and nonprofits who require the use of short-term rentals in O’ahu, highlighting that since the onset of the pandemic healthcare professionals, first responders and patients have all required temporary accommodations.

“Similarly, disaster relief workers and displaced residents relied on our platform for medium-term accommodations in the wake of natural disasters, including the 2018 Kilauea volcano eruption on the Big Island, during which Airbnb Hosts opened their homes free of charge for these individuals, Toral Patel, Airbnb Hawaii’s Public Policy’s manager said.

“Given these critical use cases, including these exemptions is essential in avoiding detrimental, unintended consequences.”

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Despite some opposition on the ground, the council voted 8-1 in favor of the bill on April 13, saying it finds that that any economic benefits of opening up residential areas to tourism are far outweighed by the negative impacts to neighborhoods and local residents.

On Monday, Honolulu Mayor Rick Blangiardi said he plans to sign the bill into law on May 14, and from then it will take about 180 days to kick in.

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