Bill aims to crack down on illegal B&Bs

Business owners concerned about collateral damage to legal operators

Maui County zoning inspector Gail Davis inspects the website of an allegedly illegal short-term rental in Haiku on Thursday. She said the property listed on Airbnb was brought to her department’s attention by a tip from “Mr. Anonymous,” who has provided many such tips. Davis said she would be sending the property owner a notice of warning and a $1,000 fine. Earlier this week, a County Council committee recommended passage of a bill to align enforcement of short-term rentals and bed-and-breakfast operations. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

WAILUKU — A Maui County Council committee recommended approval Wednesday of a bill aimed at more enforcement of bed-and-breakfast operations.

Some bed-and-breakfast owners expressed concern about unintended consequences of a crackdown on illegal operators and others who are not compliant with county rules.

The Land Use Committee advanced the bill to the full council for the first of two readings. The measure would add into the County Code a new section on revocation and enforcement procedures for bed-and-breakfast businesses.

Under the bill, a permit may be revoked for various reasons. For example, it might be revoked if there are complaints about noise or other disturbances. Or, revocation might be the result of warnings or violations arising from investigated complaints.

The bill provides that an “owner-proprietor shall allow compliance inspections to be conducted within one-hour notice.” Refusal could result in a permit revocation.

More than a handful of bed-and-breakfast owners testified before the committee Wednesday, saying they were worried the amended ordinance could hurt legal operators.

Kihei resident Charlene Schulenburg told committee members she could be punished by someone making unjustified accusations. For example, she once had a neighbor accuse her of making ducks poop on the neighbor’s lanai.

Schulenburg, whose father, Lee, managed the old Woolworth’s store on Maui, said the bill could punish longtime residents who run permitted bed-and-breakfast businesses and follow the rules.

Another owner, Michael Dougan, said he was concerned that the bill would allow Planning Department inspectors to provide only a one-hour notice that they would be inspecting an owner’s property.

Dougan said he has two businesses, one in Kihei, where he resides, and another in Haiku. He said he received an exemption from a requirement to live on the Haiku property.

He said he’s concerned that he would be at the Kihei property and then get a call that inspectors would be in Haiku in an hour. Dougan said that, at best, it would take him about 40 minutes to drive from South Maui to Haiku.

Other testifiers worried about being punished for old or wrong advertisements posted on the internet. Such outdated or incorrect advertisements may be outside their control but still lead to enforcement action.

But Planning Director Will Spence countered the testifiers’ concerns.

As for internet advertisements, he said inspectors are “akamai” and can tell who posted an ad and whether it’s valid.

Outside the meeting, he said inspectors would review complaints against properties to determine whether they’re valid.

He added that the one-hour inspection notice could be removed from the bill to provide more notification time for inspections.

But, overall, Spence said, owners can appeal county decisions if they dispute them.

The new bill on bed-and-breakfast enforcement matches up closely with the county’s existing rules on enforcement of short-term rentals, he said. Making enforcement rules consistent would help provide clarity for members of the public, he added.

The Planning Department reported that in 2016 and 2017 it received 307 complaints about short-term rentals and 41 about bed-and-breakfast operations. As a result, the county received just over $4,000 a month in fines from those cases.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.

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