Thursday, June 22, 2017


Honolulu Star-Advertiser publishes illegal vacation rental how-to article


Wednewday’s Star-Advertiser front page is dominated by a pretty useless full-page graphic that illustrates the easy profits to be made in Hawaii's vacation rental business. If, as is likely to happen, this presentation encourages more homeowners and renters to tap this extremely lucrative (though illegal) source of income, the pool of affordable rental housing in the state will be further reduced.

Yes, this is news. The presentation, however, crosses a line into promotion. Tenants cash in despite risks (Star-Advertiser p.A1, 6/21/17) only vaguely suggests, in its closing paragraph on an inside page, that this popular practice might be problematic. Nowhere does the article state that the proliferation of these short-term rentals is a contributor to Hawaii's chronic housing shortage and the growing homelessness crisis.

Of course short-term rentals (think, for example, of those arranged via Airbnb) are usually illegal here, but right at the top of the page is data reporting that fines levied so far this year total only $2,000. The third paragraph states that profits from renting to vacationers can "fetch upwards of $1,000 a week."

Also on the front page is a list describing the size of this business ("the alternative accommodations industry"): $1.4 billion in household income and 34,000 jobs.

Clearly, enforcement is effectively nonexistant. Profits are high. Risks are low. The article can't fail to attract the attention of renters and homeowners curious about how to make money through on-line services such as Airbnb. It mentions five ways to post a listing. It demonstrates that the risk of getting fined is close to zero. No specialized degree or qualifications are needed to make big bucks. Lots of people are already doing this. Sounds worth trying, right?

There is no context or perspective on benefits or harms to our economy or quality of life.

As an article in the Local section, this topic would make more sense. It's not "front-page" news because the societal impact is omitted. What's left is an effective promotion for an industry that demonstrably harms state residents while primarily benefiting out-of-state special interests.


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