The spread of transient vacation rental units is insidious: A March 2018 report from the Hawai‘i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice found that the proliferation of vacation rental units has caused a surge of nonresident homeowners seeking to commercialize the housing stock by renting short-term vacation rentals to visitors, instead of long-term rentals to locals in need of homes.
The report also found that Maui has the highest percentage of residential units used as VRUs in the state, Maui has the highest percentage of severely cost-burdened residents in the state, one in seven homes on Maui is a VRU, and one in three homes in Lahaina is a vacation rental.
In July 2017, the Maui County Council resolved to take action by better regulating illegal short term vacation rentals. At a meeting of the Planning Committee on Sep. 6, Planning Department officials appeared to update the council on their progress.
Administrative Planning Officer David Raatz presented a timeline showing how, since receiving funding in 2017, the department selected a firm to help the county identify illegal vacation rental units, a task that had proven difficult for the county to perform without outside assistance.
In March of 2018, the county selected a Colorado-based company called LodgingRevs. Over the summer, LodgingRevs “monitored, recorded, and organized transient accommodations advertisement activity across the internet.” The Planning Department has not taken immediate action. “We’re being very careful because, among other reasons, we would hate to take enforcement action against someone who’s legal,” Raatz said. “Learning about the Maui County land use laws is a new endeavor for them… We’re pouring over their initial list to make sure it’s not marking somebody for an enforcement action that shouldn’t be on there.”
Raatz assured the councilmembers: “We’re in the final stages of working with LodgingRevs to produce what we’re calling an initial census, which is a list of vacation rental operations that appear to be operating in contravention of our zoning code.”
“We think there is likely to be enforcement action pursuant to this contract sometime soon,” Raatz added. “I don’t have a specific date, I don’t have specific numbers yet, but I expect to see action soon.”
Councilmember Yuki Lei Sugimura asked what the next steps were.
“We’re working that out as we speak on a daily basis,” Raatz answered. “It’s a major priority of the department and the zoning administration and enforcement division which has primary responsibility for working with LodgingRevs. The best I can say is we’re being diligent and coming up with a system we will feel comfortable with that will essentially run itself after we’ve taken the time to establish procedures both with the company we’re contracting with and our own staff.”
The council is hopeful that the combination of better enforcement and harsher penalties will aid the affordable housing crisis on Maui. A proposed Maui County Charter amendment to raise fines for illegally operating vacation rental units from $1,000 to up to $20,000 plus $10,000 per day of violation thereafter will appear on ballots this November. For Maui residents facing a record-breaking high cost of housing and a 4,000 home shortage by 2020, the help can’t come soon enough.
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