Friday, September 16, 2011

B&B's and Short Term Rentals in Hawaii Fight For Survival


Citizens living in residentially zoned areas in Hawaii who desire to rent their places to vacationers have been legally prohibited from doing so by a powerful minority on the islands. Accountants, lawyers, beauticians and other small business owners are legally permitted to conduct business as usual from their homes, with customers coming and going, yet their neighbors are not allowed to use their houses for home-based businesses if they are to be vacation rentals.

Keep It Kailua (KIK) and Save Our Neighborhoods (SON), two rabidly anti-tourist groups, have resorted to vigilante tactics to ferret out vacation rentals on Oahu. The Hawaii Vacation Rentals Owners Association (HVROA) said it received several reports that a slim, elderly man was knocking on the doors of suspected short-term rentals in Lanikai. He claimed he was looking for a rental for his friend or family member, and he wanted to know who to contact. Later an Asian woman approached other homes with the same story. On one particular property, a handyman told the lady the place was not a vacation rental, whereupon she adamantly stated she knew it was because she noticed different cars in the driveway.

Richard Hagstrom of 367 Lama Place, Lanikai, also apparently decided to take matters into his own hands. In a letter to the Real Estate Commission dated March 13, 2011, he asked for a ban on renting or even advertising of TVU's without a non–conforming use permit (no new permits of this sort have been granted since 1989 so almost none of the operators have them). Hagstrom also submitted formal complaints against a list of travel agents who handle bookings for vacation rentals that he found on the internet.

Oahu Beachfront Rentals

In response, the Real Estate Commission on March 22, 2011 sent Hagstrom's list to the State of Hawaii Regulated Industries Complaint Office (RICO). Since July, this department has been sending letters of warning to the travel agents, stating they may be in violation of the law and to refrain from advertising. Sadly, these folks simply trying to earn a living are caught in the middle of the fray. Then on Oahu's North Shore, two Transient Vacation Units (TVU) were sent cease and desist letters, though their community has had regular vistors for years with no complaints.

A recent New York Times travel article on Kailua elicited a letter to the editor from Merrily Prentiss, a local from Kailua apparently dismayed at the possibility of more tourists visiting her town. She writes, "Lawrence Downes paints a nice picture of my Kailua. The trouble is that Mr. Downes forgot to mention that real Kailuans don’t want tourists at all. There is, in fact, a plan in place to start a 'tourists go home' campaign. Gentrification and creeping tourists have already destroyed what remained of Kailua’s quaintness, and many local folks are being displaced by high rents because of the proliferation of illegal rentals, higher grocery costs and higher taxes."

The writer's husband is Chuck Prentiss, Chair of the Kailua Neighborhood Board. Rumor has it that Mr. and Mrs. Prentiss are each considering running for political office next year. If successful, they will have the political authority to curb tourism, despite the will of many of their fellow citizens.

Hawaii Beach Cottage Rentals Under Fire

However, the battle isn't limited to Oahu. The former Mayor of Maui, Charmaine Tavares, led a massive shutdown of vacation rentals in 2009, causing a great deal of hardship for many citizens. Her mishandling of the issue played a large part in her later defeat for re-election. "So much hardship caused by complete lack of forethought was both lamentable and preventable," said Sharyn Stone, board member of Maui Vacation Rental Association. "An independent economic study put the figure that was taken out of Maui's economy at a most crucial time to be $318,000,000!" Maui's legendary windsurfing championship, the Aloha Classic, had to move to Germany because there weren't any accommodations for the competitors on Maui's North Shore.

Maui's present administration aims to achieve a more balanced approach. They have a Bed & Breakfast bill and are in process of drafting another to allow Short Term Rentals, the complementary side of the industry. They hope to give operators an avenue to become legal with a window of opportunity for them to apply for and receive permits, and only then to work on enforcement. Once a fair law is established, they can enforce it to put any illegal units out of business. Unfortunately, the previous Mayor Tavares had to learn the hard way. First, a fair and rational process needed to be determined, then enforcement, not the other way around. 

Tiffany Hill recently wrote a one-sided article for Honolulu Magazine about TVU's, favoring their opponents. She said her omission in presenting arguments supporting TVU's was due to her phone calls to their owners not being returned, yet Angie Larson, President of HVROA, did not receive any calls from Hill. While the controversy rages in Kailua, spilling over the island and beyond, Larson's perspective is needed to balance the views of the shortsighted.

Read more:


Hawaii Vacation Rental Owners Association

Downes, Lawrence. "My Kailua/The New York Times. September 2, 2011.

Hill, Tiffany. The Bed and Breakfast Battle in Hawaii/The Honolulu Magazine. September 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment