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Council continues fight against illegal transient accommodations

COUNCIL'S 3 MINUTES

The County Council’s Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee, which I chair, has been charged by the council with promoting sustainable land use and growth management in our county.

To that end, the committee has been focusing on strengthening regulation and enforcement on transient accommodations.

In August, the committee held a meeting in Paia to discuss short-term rental homes in the Paia-Haiku Community Plan Area. The issue at hand was that the community plan did not allow short-term rental homes in the community plan area, while the Maui County Code did.

The committee considered bills to reconcile the differences between the two laws. After listening to testifiers, the committee discussed and ultimately recommended the council pass two bills.

The first amends the Paia-Haiku Community Plan to allow short-term rental homes in the area. However, the homes cannot be located within the coastal region designated as the special management area.

The second bill amends the county code to also ban short-term rental homes in the SMA. The bill also sets the maximum number of allowed short-term rental homes in the community plan area to 55.

These bills have since gone into effect as Ordinances 4994 and 4995, respectively.

While the council will continue its work on regulating legal transient accommodations, it must also explore ways to increase enforcement of illegal ones.

The people of Maui County sent a strong message to these illegal operations last election. The electorate voted in favor of amending our county charter to allow initial fines of $20,000 and subsequent daily fines of $10,000 on those who operate transient accommodations without necessary permits.

The charter amendment was just the first step in this process. For the fines to go into effect, the county code needed to be amended.

Earlier this month, the committee took up a bill to do just that. Bill 49 (2019) is now before the full council for its second and final reading.

The Department of Planning also shared with the committee what it is doing on its end to identify and shut down illegal transient accommodations. They have been coordinating with their contractor, LODGINGREVS, to identify these illegal rentals and enforce our laws accordingly.

We are also exploring other avenues to improve enforcement. For example, our laws focus on the operators. However, local governments in San Francisco and New York have approached the issue by creating laws to regulate online hosting platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO.

These companies allow people to list their properties as short-term rental homes without ensuring these operators are complying with state and county laws.

If we can create laws to stop this practice, then illegal operators would have a far more difficult time advertising to potential customers.

The state Legislature considered a measure to accomplish this during their past legislative session, but it did not pass. The county governments are now working to see if we can take the initiative and pass laws ourselves.

Regulating transient accommodations is key to the sustainability of our county, and other counties are thinking the same way.

At a recent Environmental, Agricultural and Cultural Preservation Committee meeting, the committee received a presentation from Josh Stanbro, the chief resilience officer and executive director of Honolulu’s Office of Climate Change, Sustainability and Resiliency.

At the meeting, Stanbro made a point that affordable housing should be a goal for sustainability, and one way to support housing is to return illegal transient accommodations to local housing.

He also stressed the importance of community cohesion. Having transient accommodations can make neighborhoods less cohesive and could put both visitors and residents in tough situations during natural disasters.

The council’s work on this issue will continue, and my committee will continue to do what it can. As legislation comes up, I welcome the community to testify at our meetings or to submit written testimony to PSLU.Committee@mauicounty.us.

* Tamara Paltin is chairwoman of the council’s Planning and Sustainable Land Use Committee. She holds the council seat for the West Maui residency area. “Council’s 3 Minutes” is a column to explain the latest news on county legislative matters. Go to mauicounty.us for more information.