Our State needs to learn from Berlin

Published June 6, 2016 CIVIL BEAT


Protect Hawaii Residents, Veto Airbnb Bill

A city where affordable housing is scarce and rentals are widespread offers Hawaii a lesson in properly regulating Airbnb and similar services.

By Rep. Cynthia Thielen (Kailua-Kaneohe Bay)

Our state needs to learn from Berlin: Gov. David Ige must veto House Bill 1850 HD1 SD3 CD1, the “Airbnb bill.”

Between 2009 and 2014, rents in Berlin rose 56 percent, prompting the government to pass Zweckentfremdungsverbot – a law restricting private property rentals conducted through Airbnb and similar websites. This was an attempt to keep housing affordable for locals, in a city of mostly renters.

Enacted in 2014 and made effective on May 1, 2016, Berlin’s new law bans short-term rental leases of entire homes in Berlin. It still permits homeowners to rent out individual rooms in their home, but only if the rented area does not exceed 50 percent of the entire home.

This typical listing of a room in a private home in Berlin is in compliance with that city’s law, so long as the room doesn’t represent more than half the home’s living space.

Via Airbnb

Those who defy the law face a fine of up to 100,000 euros, or $113,000 in U.S. dollars. How long it will actually take for this new law to return rental prices to more reasonable levels is anyone’s guess.

Like Berlin, Hawaii is in the throes of an affordable housing crisis. Honolulu’s rental prices are rising faster than anywhere else in the nation, with a three-bedroom home fetching nearly $2,675 per month — twice as much as the national average.

As a lawmaker, it pained me to read in the Star-Advertiser this past March that 48 percent of Hawaii residents say they live paycheck to paycheck, and in the past five years, one out of four residents were unsure they could make their monthly rent or mortgage payment.

The soaring popularity of transient vacation rentals, both legal and illegal, makes finding a decent place to rent like chasing an impossible dream. Statewide, the number of illegal vacation rentals is outnumbering legal ones.

As in Berlin, owners of Hawaii properties have realized they can rack up profits by renting out rooms and apartments as multiple short-term stays to visitors. Online booking services like Airbnb are complicit in all of this by failing to require homeowners to prove the legality of their rental units.

Now, more than ever, our people are desperate for affordable rental housing. But given the soaring popularity of transient vacation rentals, both legal and illegal, finding a decent place to rent is like chasing an impossible dream. Statewide, the number of illegal vacation rentals is outnumbering the legal, permitted ones.

Even after repeated calls to the local planning departments, enforcement is sparse due to very limited resources. The fact that many illegal vacation rental owners live off-island or out-of-state simply adds to the difficulty of enforcement.

Worse yet, illegal rentals are not limited to traditional homes. Now our public parks and beaches are being exploited as “glamping” sites for rent at inflated prices, reducing the number of camping permits available for local residents and their families. This blatant misuse of public lands and residential neighborhoods for illegal gain must be stopped.

HB 1850 presents the ultimate “devil’s bargain,” promising a supposed $15 million in tax revenues on one hand, but forever pricing Hawaii residents out of their homeland on the other.

Please stop this impending assault on our quality of life in Hawaii nei by joining me in asking the governor to veto HB 1850 HD1 SD3 CD1.

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