Is Airbnb Illegal in Hawaii? Not Technically, but Sometimes.

There’s been a lot of chatter about Airbnb in Hawaii over the last few years. Is Airbnb illegal? Not technically, but sometimes. Confused? Keep reading!

Is Airbnb Illegal in Hawaii?

Illegal vacation rentals have started to become a major problem in Hawaii (in a lot of places) in the last few years, but it’s starting to reach a boiling point. 

The rise in popularity of sites like Airbnb has resulted in a lot of property being bought by wealthy folks from the mainland (or internationally) and being rented out as short term vacation rentals to visitors. 

In addition to creating a housing crisis (it becomes much harder for local families to afford to be able to stay in the area), it also changes the community (i.e. more businesses and amenities catered towards tourists and less towards residents). 

What does that mean for you? 

To get this problem under control, different counties (islands) have been passing (or starting to enforce) legislation that cracks down on illegal rentals. Lately, it’s been most dramatic on Oahu where there have been estimated to be as many as 10,000 illegal vacation rentals, but the other islands are turning their attention to cracking down on this problem. 

A lot of visitors are shocked that it’s even an option to book something illegal on Airbnb or Vrbo, but the truth is those sites are just marketplaces and it’s up to YOU to use due diligence to make sure what you’re booking is on the up and up. 

I’m not talking about shady listings where they’re trying to scam you. 99% of these properties are legitimate homes, apartments, ohanas (a separate dwelling on somebody’s property) either rented out by the owners or a property manager. Just like Airbnb works anywhere in the world. 

They range in price, size, location, and amenities. But they don’t have permits to be operating as short term vacation rentals and they’re located in areas of the island that are considered residential (we’re not talking about condos). 

In short…it’s always been illegal to rent a house on a site like Airbnb or Vrbo that didn’t have a permit (the majority of them), but now they’re enforcing it. 

As the renter, (right now) you won’t get fined if the owner gets caught, but you could be left with no place to stay on short notice. So basically…if you’re set on alternative forms of accommodations besides a resort, hotel, or condo, you’ll need to read up on the zoning for each island and either pick something that’s in a zone that doesn’t require a permit, or pick something that does have a permit. 

I’ll be honest…there aren’t a ton of permitted short term vacation rentals on each island (outside of tourist areas where they’re mostly condos) so the ones you will find tend to be not super cheap. 

I will give you a heads up about a situation on Oahu…their official law is that short term rentals are any rental less than 30 days so as a work around a lot of places will say they have a 30 day minimum on Airbnb but kind of squirrel around and only charge you for the week you want to stay. It’s still illegal and it’s uncertain how it’s going to be handled. 

Where to Book Legal Vacation Rentals

I don’t want to scare you away from using sites like Vrbo and Airbnb, because they actually have amazing places to stay but I SERIOUSLY SERIOUSLY SERIOUSLY recommend only using them to book places in tourist zones. 

On Oahu, book places in Waikiki, Ko Olina, and Turtle Bay. 

On Maui, book places in Kaanapali up to Kapalua and in Kihei and Wailea. 

On Kauai, book in Poipu and Princeville. 

On the Big Island, book around Kona and up around Waikoloa on the Kohala Coast. 

Those obviously aren’t the only places you can find legal rentals on each island, but those tend to be the major hubs.