Zoning enforcement on vacational rentals

24 April 2024 by Sunwise Bonaire - Reading time: 5 minutes

This article criticizes Bonaire’s new zoning enforcement for vacation rentals, arguing that it could devastate the local economy by deterring many paying tourists and affecting related services. And is calling for public support via social media to stop these changes.

A group of homeowners and landlords oppose the enforcement of Bonaire’s vacation rental zoning laws. As this will threaten the local economy, as visits by tourists, who spend a lot of money, could decrease, with which related services could also be affected. The public is being urged via social media to prevent these changes. Read on to properly inform yourself about zoning enforcement. Help keep Bonaire’s stock of beautiful private vacation homes up to par!

Zoning enforcement

For decades, the island government has turned a blind eye to short-term vacation rentals in areas not zoned for such purposes. This tacit approval has been the status quo for as long as most can remember, going back well over a decade. Indeed, many second-home buyers factored in the freedom to use their homes as income-generating investments when buying property on Bonaire.

The government’s arbitrary decision to suddenly and immediately enforce these long￾dormant zoning regulations caught many off guard. An agenda pushed by a few paid consultants with a known hotel-centric bias appears to be behind this push for immediate enforcement.

The OLB’s rationale is based on several inaccurate statements of “fact”

Hotel and resort guests spend more on the island than renters of private villas.

Untrue. Hotels keep most, if not all, of their accommodation support services (cleaning, laundry, catering, maintenance, car rentals, etc.) in-house, and the profits derived from overnight stays flow off the island to foreign investors in most instances. Contrast this with private home rentals where all these services are hired from local, independent suppliers. The money paid for these services stays on Bonaire and directly supports our economy.

If private homes are no longer available, short-term visitors will book a hotel or resort next time.

Untrue. While some private apartment renters may move to hotels for a similar experience, the higher-spend private home renters will not. There is a reason these affluent travelers choose a private home rental – they want privacy. If there is no inventory of private homes, these travelers will simply trade Bonaire for a different Caribbean island where their demands will be met.

This enforcement action will impact fewer than 100 private home rentals.

Untrue. A 2022 online inventory of private home rentals conducted by local realtors revealed at least 300 short-term vacation homes in Residential Areas I, II, and III. This number is likely higher, as some private landlords don’t have a website or property manager. The OLB’s decision is based on inaccurate data. The OLB also makes inaccurate assumptions to justify enforcement.

Banning short-term vacation rentals will improve social cohesion in the impacted neighborhoods.

Untrue. From what I understand about OLB’s plan, only rentals shorter than three months will be prohibited. It is difficult to believe that a three- or six-month rental to a group of interns will boost the social cohesion in any neighborhood, especially the upscale neighborhoods directly impacted by this ban. The same is likely true for the Mariadal specialists who come to the island for a few months and intend to depart after their contract is complete.

Affordable housing will be the result of this enforcement.

Untrue. Homes in the highest price range, $750,000+, will likely decline in value if this ban is enforced. This is because many homeowners there rely on vacation rentals to offset the high ownership costs. When a large volume of homes floods the market, prices go down – as does the associated VGB the government relies on. However, the real pain point for affordable housing in Bonaire lies in the $200,000 or less properties. These modest homes will not see any price drop benefit from any change in pricing in the high-end housing market. Even if a Sabadeco villa drops in price by 25% (which is a very likely scenario across the board for all properties in the impacted areas), that will absolutely not equate to an identical percentage drop for properties in the price range where a reduction is most needed. This is basic economics.

Enforcement isn’t going to help the affordable rental market, either. If villas in areas like Sabadeco, Belnem, or Punt Vierkant are even put into the long-term rental market, no private home in those areas will have a market rental rate of less than $2,000 per month (on the very low end). This ban will not help the affordable rental issue at all.

Negative impacts on the island’s economy

Homeowners, renters, and vacation visitors will not be the only ones affected. Active enforcement will negatively impact the island’s economy.

Local businesses will take a big hit to their bottom lines.

Profit drops in service-adjacent industries like property management, house cleaning, laundry, and rental cars should be expected. But it goes beyond profit for local business owners.

Unemployment will rise.

Jobs are on the line. Plain and simple. When there is less demand, there will be fewer jobs for house cleaners, property managers, maintenance crews, and gardeners. Unemployment rates will certainly rise.

Blue Economy is not reachable.

Then, there is the concept of the Blue Economy and its goal of attracting well-heeled visitors with deeper pockets instead of low-value, mass tourism. Reducing the private residence pool does not align with this goal. Many of our valued, higher-spend visitors come here specifically for the privacy and peace that a private residence provides. These visitors rent vehicles, shop at local grocery stores, and dine in our many restaurants. All these activities boost our local economy far more than the “all-inclusive” hotel and resort guests who rarely venture beyond their property’s walls, let alone contribute directly to the local economy in the ways private home renters do.

The loss of these well-heeled tourists will directly impact the economy, but the impact won’t stop there. If there is no future demand for upscale, villa-style second homes, the construction industry will also see a downturn.

Fewer construction jobs.

Construction is the second-biggest economic driver on this island after tourism. Fewer new homes mean fewer construction jobs and reduced demand for materials, further damaging Bonaire’s overall economy and job market.

If the government persists with its plan to immediately enforce this rental zoning ban, I believe the island’s real estate market will plunge into a similar scenario to what happened in 2008-2009. If you weren’t here to witness that downturn, count yourself lucky. It took years to recover from depressed property values and a shaky economy.

The strangest part of this situation is that the only people who stand to gain from enforcement are a handful of homeowners vocal about not wanting vacationers in their neighborhoods. These homeowners do not realize that if this enforcement initiative is executed, the value of their own properties could plunge by 25% or more.

Perhaps holidaymakers aren’t so bad to have as short-term neighbors after all.

Would you like to support our action to oppose this intention of the Bonaire government? Then please share your “likes” on Facebook, to our (Ron Opdam) posts in our board’s (OLB) article on this campaign. It would help correctly inform the public and hopefully change the OLB’s mind and thereby keep the stock of beautiful private vacation homes on Bonaire at its level.

18 responses to "Zoning enforcement on vacational rentals"
  1. Jolanda en Bert Struis says:

    Disappointed we are in the public body of Bonaire, almost 25 years we rent houses there for our vacation, for 20 years with pleasure on Sabal Palm, we have never noticed nuisance from vacationers during our stay, this year during our holiday verbliontvingen we first received the letter that short time rental is no longer allowed, in our mailbox, a few days later came the enforcement with 3 people us a registered letter that a violation was already established. The BON BINI feeling was gone immediately , and traveled to the Netherlands with a not nice feeling. Why long term rent of 3 months, and not first a test of at least 1 month, which is still reasonable for a tourist, then there is less arrival and departure nuisance in the neighborhoods. And it is also attractive for the rental companies, and they can still keep the staff employed, which will be difficult with 3 months, given the few actions required for that.

    Many people will suffer financially from this enforcement,restaurants,supermarkets, car rental, KLM business class, of course the homeowners,and this queue is getting longer.

    Other islands will benefit from this,they are already busy promoting their homes now.

    We have always felt at home on Bonaire, whether we will ever return is the question.

    Jolanda and Bert from the Netherlands.

  2. Lorina says:

    Thank you Ron for this article!
    We‘ve been visiting Bonaire annually for more than 13 years now, always about 3 to 4 weeks. Beeing able to rent a villa and have some private quality time with the family is what we cherish about our vacation on Bonaire. If this action goes trough and we would have to go to a hotel this would mean that we would -unfortunately- stop coming to Bonaire. This is so sad as we actually love the island so much. We just can’t identify ourselves in a big, impersonal hotel… I hope the government rethinks this big, and in my opinio, unfortunate change for the island!

  3. Dr. James M and family! says:

    In this ever changing world, Bonaire has been a place where are family (up to 12 some trips) can always rely on the island comforts. As frequent home renters for the last 12-13 years, we have made many friends. We too rent vehicles, shop at the local vendors and shops. Grocieries and high end dinners (we miss the little Italian restaurant). We have put tens of thousands of dollars into the community and dive most days while enjoying as many sunsets as we can with wine bought locally. We even visit Rincon and have a cold one with the “rockhound” from time to time. Wonderful people and very special place to our family. I can say that I have never been to, nor would I stay in a resort. It’s just not for us. I can assure you, if this ban is upheld, you will see not only the economic impact mentioned but also airline decline. We have tolerated the Cruise ships but watch in amazement as they go back onboard to eat and spend very little time and money on island in the short time they stay in port. We have participated in local classes, stayed at an art villa and help rid the reef of lion fish as we were trained on Bonaire. This has made us reconsider investing in the island and I can honestly say that we have never had a complaint about any short term renters in the Sabadeco area. Please reconsider this outdated directive. Ons Oranje!

  4. Tom S. says:

    My wife and I have been coming to Bonaire for 29 years where we have many longtime friends. Bonaire has been a second home. We brought our three children here every Christmas for three weeks over 18 years. We currently spent two months a year. We have always rented a house to maximize family time. I lived in hotels for 25 years traveling internationally for work—hotels are not our idea of close family time. My windsurfing bill alone has been several thousand dollar each trip. Our children now have children, and we were planning a family reunion sharing a house in Bonaire next year. With this new policy, we cannot return. Staying in a hotel or resort is not what we have in mind. It’s a showstopper for us.
    We considered buying a house. I’m glad we didn’t. It’s obvious property owners cannot trust Bonaire’s investment environment which will obviously diminish their property values.

  5. Dennis Roberts says:

    I have been coming to Bonaire for over 25 years. Have never, and will never stay in a hotel or big resort. We normally rent a home in Sabadeco, but have also rented homes in Belnam. While there, we feel more like residents than tourists. We take advantage of just about everything the island has to offer. This outdated law is horrible. If enforced, it would greatly reduce short term rental options, which would mean fewer visitors to Bonaire. This seems to be a ploy to enhance the newer big hotels that are cropping up on the island. I’m afraid it will only end up hurting the owners of the properties available to rent. It will also hurt Bonaire’s home-like feel that so many people come there for.

  6. Stephanie Todd says:

    We have been coming to Bonaire for 16 years and always rented a house. As seniors , we like the peace and quiet of the neighborhood we have stayed in. We always felt welcomed. Hotels are not an option! We have always rented from people we know who have become life long friends.
    We rent a vehicle, windsurfing gear, shop in the grocery stores, dine out and spend time with our friends here.
    We will never stay in a hotel and many other places we checked out are out pricing themselves for 1-3 month stays.
    This will definitely not help the economy when many of us don’t come to Bonaire or come for a much shorter period of time.
    I seriously hope the government re-visits this outdated law.

  7. Jayne Rylon says:

    As someone who has visited the island for over a dozen years in a row, including this year when I rented a home in La Palma for three weeks, rented a truck for three weeks, visited the grocery stores, ate out, hired local guides, and quietly and respectfully occupied a neighborhood I love, I can assure you that when I was told of the changes I didn’t consider staying at a resort next year instead. I considered my vacation to a place I cherish and have spent significant money at for over a decade to have been cancelled.

  8. Marianne van den Bosch says:

    We have visited Bonaire annually for about 8 years now – always renting a house for a month in Belnem or Sabadeco. We have already rented a house for next year – Punt Vierkant. We love Bonaire, and since I grew up on Aruba it is like ‘coming home’.
    The idea is ‘living on the island’ – doing our groceries, visiting the restaurants, buying an ice cream at Gio’s, renting a car, taking the walks, going to the national park and do some snorkeling.
    It is shocking that the government prefers big – impersonal – hotels to homes.
    It would certainly NOT be an option for us to stay in a hotel for a month, and that would mean stop coming to our so beloved Bonaire.
    Furthermore, I don’t think hotel guests spend more on the island than house renters.
    Having said all this ….. I don’t know where the residential areas I, II and 3 are.
    As far as I can see it is about Sabadeco.

    1. Dear Marianne, thank you for your response and support!
      You can view the zones online at this link. The yellow colored areas are restricted for vacationers. Currently, enforcement seems to be concentrated around Sabalpalm, La Palma and Bona Bista, as there are complaints from local residents about guests making noise there. We have no idea yet whether enforcement will expand to the other ‘prohibited areas’, but at least we have ample accommodation left in the mixed-use and recreational neighborhoods. We are considering designating accommodations with a final green light on our website. To be continued!

  9. Brad H says:

    We have rented a house for a week in March every year for the past 12 years in Sabadeco for our family of 18 (3 generations). We prefer to be in a home over a hotel since our goal is to spend quality family time together. Our family looks forward to the trip every year and we hope that large hotels do not win out over family values.

  10. Thomas Skalko says:

    We’ve visited Bonaire almost annually for a dive vacation. This action would take Bonaire off our list.

  11. Johan Hager says:

    Hi Ron,
    Is er ook een Instagram account , zodat mensen die geen Facebook account hebben ook kunnen like-en?
    Grt Johan

    1. Helaas, Johan… Facebook is hét sociale medium op Bonaire. Misschien via mensen in je omgeving, met een FB-account?

  12. Susanne Leu says:

    This is a great report with good arguments and facts, thank you and bravo Ron👏👏

    1. Thank you for your support, Susanne!

  13. Donna R says:

    We typically rent a home in the Belnem area for more than a month and would not be able to extend that to 3 months. During this time, we bank, rent a car, get gas, buy groceries, buy new gear, rent windsurfing and other equipment, eat out at many restaurants, cruise on the Melissa, go on excursions and participate on plastic clean-up for the island. We are respectful of Bonaire as if it was our second home, and renting a home helps us feel part of the community, if only temporarily. There is no way we would want to stay in a hotel/resort for this period of time and we would have to look at other options. Bonaire has always been so friendly and welcoming. This crackdown on an old law feels very punitive, as though you don’t really want kind tourism, only mass tourism. Please reconsider.

    1. Dear Donna and Bruce, we are trying with all our might to make our government reconsider and let them see that they are completely miscalculating. The damage to tourism and the economy of Bonaire will be enormous and not only our guests will be affected, but certainly the local people with a small business or a job in the sectors fueled by private villa rentals.

    2. Karin Bazlen says:

      Exactly! I agree on every word ! If there are only Hotels in the future where I can spend a 3 weeks diving holiday, I will not come to Bonaire again. I loved the Island for the fact to live there like a resident, buying groceries, choosing different restaurants, renting a car , roaming around freely. That’s the reason why I fell in love with Bonaire and made me a frequent returner. I sure will not switch to a hotel. That law makes me feel very sad. Actually I am shocked that the government prefers the mass tourism in Hotels, what an outdated opinion.

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