Vacation rental bill heads to planning commissions

  • Eileen O'Hara
  • Takemoto

HILO — Hawaii County Council members approved a fourth version of a vacation rental bill Tuesday, fine-tuning a measure that’s generated a lot of controversy from those on both sides of the issue.

The council Planning Committee agreed to a bevy of changes before forwarding the package to the Leeward and Windward planning commissions for their input. Bill 108, which was introduced early this year and postponed four times, will then come back to the County Council for two more readings.


An amendment initiated by Puna Councilwoman Eileen O’Hara broadens the grandfather clause, setting a one-time registration fee of $250 for any existing vacation rental, whether it’s in an allowable county zone or not. Those in disallowed zones would pay an annual $250 fee for a nonconforming use permit.

The amended version also requires notification of neighbors within 300 feet of a new vacation rental, establishes a good neighbor policy and quiet hours and allows the county to approve new vacation rentals when nonconforming vacation rental units are lost during a declared emergency.

The Planning Department is empowered to enforce regulations and fine violators, with procedures and fines set in line with other planning and zoning violations.

“She hit a home run; she hit on all the issues,” said Mayor Harry Kim’s Executive Assistant Roy Takemoto.

The bill was originally proposed by the Kim administration.

Other amendments grandfather in all vacation rentals operating legally as of the effective date of the new law, rather than an arbitrary date that had to be postponed every time the bill was.

Hawaii County is the only county in the state that has no regulations governing the short-term rentals promoted by such companies as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.

“This has been a really great exercise. … It’s still been difficult to find all the right language and make sure everything is fair and legal,” said North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, one of the sponsors of the measure. “We’re taking a very — I’m not going to say middle of the road — but just a fair approach to take advantage of the opportunities vacation rentals present but also to protect our neighborhoods.”

The measure is an attempt to prohibit unhosted short-term rentals in residential and agricultural zones, while allowing them in hotel and resort zones as well as commercial districts. Existing rentals in disallowed areas would be able to be grandfathered in by applying for a nonconforming use certificate that must be renewed annually.

Bill 108 applies only to unhosted, short-term or vacation rentals where the owner does not live on site. Hosted rentals, such as bed and breakfasts and home-sharing units, are not addressed in the bill.

The bill tries to strike a balance between residents facing an inundation of vacationers in their once-quiet neighborhoods, and those trying to supplement their income, or make an income, by renting homes to vacationers.

It also seeks to comply with state law that allows only farm dwellings on land in state agriculture districts. That means each vacation rental within the agriculture boundary on land rezoned since 1976 must be handled on a case-by-case basis through a special use permit, said Deputy Planning Director Daryn Arai.


Not all council members were pleased with the bill as it stood after four series of revisions. But they agreed it was time to get more technical help from the planning commissions.

“It would appear from the hours of testimony, the literally hundreds of communications we have received on this, the interest and concern as we work on this legislation, we are headed in the right direction,” said Kohala Councilman Tim Richards. “We have heard it all. … When everyone’s equally unhappy, we will have finally struck the balance.”

  1. Raoul Duke II July 25, 2018 6:24 pm

    OH yeah…this is the same planning commission filled with aunties…uncles…cousins…brothers in law of the vacation home owners…these are the same idiots who allowed building in lava zone 1 & 2. These are the same idiots that could not fine and/or tear down all the un-permitted structures that were destroyed in the latest rift zone event. These are the same idiots who are county bureaucrats who don’t enforce current zoning laws and stop the illegal short term rentals on AG land and in residential neighborhoods where they are clearly illegal. I can’t wait to see them rubber stamp the shiftless grifters on the county council’s new plan…to grandfather in all those scofflaws who have been flaunting the zoning laws and making bank on the backs of the legal citizens of Hawaii. Just remember that the grifter Tim Richards has a short term rental on AG land that books $100K per year…talk about conflict of interest…OH but he will be grandfathered in at $250 bucks per year…what a joke!

    1. Bigislandfarmer July 25, 2018 9:07 pm

      Actually they’re not clearly illegal, or they wouldn’t be creating laws against them. But you’re certainly correct that they’re useless and corrupt.

      1. wahineilikea July 26, 2018 10:37 am

        Actually, Raoul Duke II is 100% correct. They are clearly illegal, because according to the county code, the only legal uses are the ones specified in the code for that zoning. Vacation rental businesses are not allowable in any residential or ag zones. This new bill supposedly will clarify the law and provide for enforcement, but it doesn’t seem to be doing either of those – as Raoul says, it rewards lawbreakers and doesn’t cerate any meaningful avenues for enforcement.

        1. Alex July 26, 2018 10:26 pm

          Exactly. The sponsors of this bill still have a chance to fix the huge grandfathering and enforcement issues, but they have been unwilling from the beginning to accept meaningful feedback on these areas. They seem unaware that this same language failed in Kauai and Santa Ana and created a much bigger mess there where the counties first legalized and then ended up in court with the owners when they were forced to take away permits later. Don’t the sponsors care at all about their legacy? Failure will be obvious within a few years.

  2. Bigislandfarmer July 25, 2018 9:09 pm

    If Takemoto thinks there is anything competent about O”””””hara, then he’s as wacky and incompetent as she is. Corruption is par for the course with Kim, Eoff, Richards, P-Card Poindexter, etc. Sad that all these crooks are soon going to be bilking taxpayers $80k per year for their “work.”

  3. Nope July 25, 2018 11:03 pm

    I’m sure the cronies and friends of this politicians will be the big winner.

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