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Bed-and-breakfast enforcement bill loses some bite

Maui County zoning inspector Gail Davis inspects the website of an allegedly illegal short-term rental in Haiku last month. 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. An amended B&B enforcement bill passed its first reading in the County Council on Friday. The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo

A bill aimed at more enforcement of bed-and-breakfast operations got some of its teeth removed Friday when Maui County Council members amended it to give operators a 30-day grace period to renew their county permits.

Citing previous committee testimony from legal operators who may, for good reason, not be able to renew their permits on time, Council Member Don Guzman proposed the amendment. It also would restrict operators, pending permit approval, from advertising and accepting new reservations during the grace period.

Guzman said he knows that many bed-and-breakfast owners are residents who live on site. He noted that, under the initial proposed bill, if operators failed to renew their permits, they would need to wait two years to apply for a new permit.

A late fee for untimely filers would be determined at a later date, Guzman said. The amendment granting a 30-day grace period was approved by a 6-1 vote, with Council Member Elle Cochran dissenting. Council Members Alika Atay and Kelly King were excused.

Guzman proposed another amendment that failed to garner enough votes. Under the proposed bill, an “owner-proprietor shall allow compliance inspections to be conducted within one-hour notice.” Refusal could result in a permit revocation.

Guzman proposed giving a 24-hour notice for inspections. At the council’s Land Use Committee last month, some bed-and-breakfast owners were concerned about not being able to meet that one-hour notice inspection times.

Council Chairman Mike White said he was fine with giving people “doing all the right things” a 24-hour notice.

But he said Planning Department inspectors would be using this one-hour notice provision “if they suspect something going on that shouldn’t be going on.”

White voted against the amendment.

Cochran said she was against all the amendments, calling the operating permits a privilege and not a right.

“It is a special asking of a type of unpermited use of a zoning in residential areas, what have you, by golly when you get this special permit, I would think you would have it highlighted to (be) renewed, to be on it, as a business person, we have a lot of deadlines and dates to meet.”

Cochran noted the council shouldn’t be giving too much leeway and pointed to the housing crisis on Maui. Even though the amendments are being proposed so permitted owners do not get hurt, Cochran said she gets calls complaining about even permitted bed-and-breakfasts.

Guzman said he can appreciate his colleagues’ positions but noted that unlike short-term rentals, bed-and-breakfast owners are required to live on property and are residents, but it’s human nature that things can happen to cause delays.

The amended bill passed the council on first reading Friday. It needs another vote on second-and-final reading before it can advance to the mayor for final action.

The measure would add a new section in the County Code on revocation and enforcement procedures for bed-and-breakfast businesses.

Department of Planning Director Will Spence previously said the new bill parallels the county’s existing rules on short-term rental enforcement. Making enforcement rules consistent would help provide clarity for members of the public, he said.

In other council matters, the body agreed to extend the deadline for work on the Molokai Community Plan update to Sept. 30.

Initially, Council Member Kelly King, Planning Committee chairwoman, called for an extension until June 30, 2019.

But, she said that at a committee meeting on Thursday, it was decided that the plan could be done sooner than later.

“We are confident we can get it done. I don’t think there is a reason to go until next year,” King told council members.

During public testimony Friday, Spence also called for a shorter deadline for the plan’s completion, noting that the Molokai plan has been in committee for two years, and it’s taking a lot of staff time away from other projects, including the West Maui Community Plan revision.

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

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