Condos and hotels caught up in proposed vacation rental rules

  • Sharon Diedrichs and her dog Molly relax at her condo in Kona by the Sea. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Visitors and residents enjoy the saltwater pool at Kona by the Sea on Alii Drive. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Visitors enjoy the beach area at Kona by the Sea on Alii Drive.

  • Richard Diedrichs relaxes with Molly in their condo at Kona by the Sea on Alii Drive. (Photos by Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Sharon Diedrichs waters plants on her expansive lanai in her condo at Kona by the Sea. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • Many amenities are available to vacation renters and condo residents at Kona by the Sea on Alii Drive. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • Sharon Diedrichs relaxes on one of two lanai in her condo at Kona by the Sea.

  • Janelle Gattis-Good of Pleasant Holidays books activities for guests at Kona by the Sea on Alii Drive. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

HILO — Some longtime vacation rental condos, by a quirk of zoning, are being swept up into a vacation rental bill while those just across Alii Drive are not, an issue that has a crowd ready to speak out at the Leeward Planning Commission meeting.

The meeting is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Thursday at the West Hawaii Civic Center.

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Kona Isle, Kona Pacific, Kona by the Sea, Kona Mansions, Kona Westwind and Kona Eastwind are among condo hotels affected by changes to short-term rentals envisioned in Bill 108. That’s because they’re in a residential multifamily zone that’s just shy of the General Plan resort code, while short-term rentals will be allowed only in resort-hotel or commercial zones.

Jeff King, who lives in Kona Isle, said he understands the impetus behind the bill governing short-term rentals, especially in single-family neighborhoods. But his condo building has been used for vacation rentals since it was built in 1972, he said.

King, like many of his neighbors, worries about properties being devalued if they’re not allowed to be used for vacation rentals. At 500-square-feet, with one parking space, the units are really not suited for long-term family homes, he said.

“Unless you’re a single person, or a couple with one car, it’s not going to work,” King said.

King’s not reassured by the grandfather clause that allows those vacation rentals currently up to date on their taxes to continue using them by obtaining nonconforming use certificates. Nor is he reassured by county officials’ stated plans to give this issue a close look during the current revamp of the county General Plan.

Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha and North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff, the sponsors of Bill 108, have been working closely together on the issues as it wends its way through the system.

“We are aware of issues and inconsistencies with some of the zoning in our districts regarding the condo hotels,” Eoff said Friday. “We are looking at possible General Plan amendments to correct this, as the county is currently undergoing and involved in a comprehensive General Plan review process.”

Owners at Kona by the Sea are particularly upset. That property has operated as what association President Todd Miller calls a “condotel,” a condominium with a hotel operation renting the rooms. The building has a front desk, just like a hotel, and the 88-room complex’s rental program includes 17 full-time staff.

“Kona by the Sea is not part of the problem you are targeting,” Miller said in a letter to Kanuha. “Our neighbors are other owners within our complex. Everyone knew it was a vacation rental complex when they purchased so there should be no reason to enact regulation at this complex.”

The bill, now on its fourth draft, still has a long way to go. The Planning Department, in a 56-page document, made 16 recommendations, and the Windward Planning Commission last week added a few of its own.

Once the Leeward Planning Commission agrees to the current draft or makes recommendations, it goes back to the County Council Planning Committee for another hearing and possible amendments, before being forwarded to the council for two more readings.

“I think it’s prudent to await recommendations from the Planning Department and planning commissions before additional amendments to the bill are considered,” Kanuha said.

The short-term rentals aren’t illegal because there’s no county code currently governing them.

“You can make laws going forward, but you can’t take away the property rights from people who are using it legally under today’s code,” Amy Self, a deputy corporation counsel who represents the Planning Department, said last week.

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.

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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.

  1. cowfarmerJoe September 16, 2018 5:40 am

    “Once quiet neighborhoods”…right. The phalanx of weed whackers, mowers, shredders, and leaf blowers in every neighborhood every morning are louder than any vacationers could ever hope to be. I’d like to know how many complaints about vacationers vs residents have been made. How about you paper politicians learn to respect private property.


  2. KonaRich September 16, 2018 9:18 am

    I hope these folk remember these elected officials come November election. Kanuha is up, Eoff not, she is just a go along to get along council person and her last unopposed term. They say; pass this and we will fine tune it with General Plan amendments later. Right and if you believe that, I have a bridge to sell in San Francisco that might interest you.


  3. 4whatitsworth September 16, 2018 9:27 am

    There is just no reason to provide economic opportunities for the little guys (people who can buy a 500sft condo and rent it to get ahead) these guys are like pests they multiply and if they are successful other people may decide to get in on the act and start working instead of waiting and depending on the government for assistance. If given a chance these people may even start talking about limited government and lower taxes!

    – Sarc Intended


  4. Buds4All September 16, 2018 4:49 pm

    How is that whore Eoff still a thing she should have been impeached for hiding information to the voters!


  5. antifaHI September 16, 2018 8:45 pm

    The short-term-rental municipality concept is not a vibrant sea-side community that drives longterm economic growth. It blocks organic interaction and leaves no room for affordable housing, creative endeavors, small industry, etc. It actually takes away the very reason many of these tourists come here. This issue will not go away with piddly legislation here and there, mark my words.


  6. IRLOYAL September 17, 2018 1:06 am

    Face up Hawaiians, we are sheeple as much as anywhere else in the USA. We continue to elect local/state/national politicians who are bought and paid for by special interest groups and the only real interest that 90% of all politicians have is how do we lie and cheat our constituents while convincing them to keep us elected.
    We elected these politicians who know so much better than we do how to manage our private property. While I agree that people who own rentals should be accountable for their property, why are there separate sets of rules for whether you live on site, or the residence is existing, new or proposed and you rent it out?
    I think it should be pretty straight forward.
    1 – Maintain residence to the standards established by law and acceptance of the neighbors
    2 – Require renters to follow all established Hawaiian and US laws
    3 – Pay all taxes from rental income
    4 – Repeat
    Anything else is Dru and Eoff’s elitist view of what THEY think is right. They want to legislate the entire Island (and state for that matter) to match their OPINION of what is good for their neighborhood. Well, what is good for their section of Hilo has no relationship to what needs to be established for Puna, Kau, South Kona, etc.
    If the state/local officials would simply ENFORCE items 1,2,3 from the list, the rental issues would go away. If the state started collecting ALL taxes due from rentals, and took action to fine and arrest tax scoff-laws and/or acquire the delinquent tax paying properties, the corrupt owners would be out of the business.
    Again, the politicians just trying to make it look like they are doing something (passing redundant and unneeded laws) while sitting back and not enforcing current laws. If the politicians would expend the same amount of energy on identifying the tax scofflaws on short term rentals, not only would the current system probably work pretty well, the state and local governments could actually get income instead of 9i$$ing away tax dollars.


    1. KonaLife September 17, 2018 10:21 am

      Thank, IRLOYAL! This is one of the most intelligent and insightful comments on the issue.


  7. Helena Baskitt September 20, 2018 8:13 am

    Are they paying hotel tax?


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