New short-term rental law reviewed by Planning Commission

Staff planner Gina Flammer looks out at the audience while Maui County Planning Director William Spence testifies during today's Molokai Planning Commission meeting. On the right is Commissioner Lori Buchanan.

An ordinance designed to bring all Maui County short-term rentals into compliance received review today by the Molokai Planning Commission at its regular meeting.

Also known as Transient Vacation Rentals, or TVRs, these rental homes are now only allowed under an unwieldy conditional permitting process. Kip Dunbar is the only Molokai property owner who has successfully gone through this process. He now rents out two properties on the East End, the Pauwalu cottage and the Pu’unana cottage. Only 12 of these conditional permits have been issued countywide.

In a presentation to the MoPC, staff planner Gina Flammer from the Maui County Planning Department admitted that there is an “underground industry” of these rentals that needs to be regulated. A draft of this bill has been referred to all local planning commissions from the Maui County Council Planning Committee for review with a report due back by July 22.

In considering this bill, the county planning committee looked at the potential effect in the long-term housing market as well as the economic impact on tourism. They also considered the effect this will have on agriculturally-zoned land, which can be used for TVRs.

The new ordinance will require a sign in front of the property with the name and phone number of the on-island caretaker. Only one permit will be allowed per person with no corporate ownership allowed. Neighbors within 500 feet will be notified prior to an application hearing. While specific caps on the number of TVRs were set for the island of Maui, Lanai and Molokai will be allowed to set their own limits.

Rules specific to just Molokai in this ordinance include a maximum of three bedrooms in the rental home and permit renewals of only one year. Based on the recently adopted bed & breakfast ordinance, this bill attempts to maintain the character of the neighborhood while also allowing carefully regulated TVRs. On Molokai, the MoPC will be empowered to approve every TVR permit application, regardless of whether the property is in a Special Management Area or not.

“I can’t emphasize how important it is to review each permit on a case-by-case basis,” said Flammer during her presentation.

Letters of support for this bill were submitted from Molokai residents Cheryl Corbiell and Shirley Alapa. Testifying in favor of the new bill was Dayna Harris from Molokai Vacation Rentals who said she had a letter of support with 114 names on it.

Another local resident in the real estate business, Susan Savage from Friendly Isle Realty, testified in opposition to the new law. “Any economic benefit is not worth losing sleep in your neighborhood over,” she said.

Savage, along with several planning commissioners, raised concerns over the lack of enforcement that exists on Molokai.

Commissioner Lori Buchanan discussed the problems of enforcement and parking. “You are putting the cart before the horse. The way it’s written it is self-enforcing and it’s not my job to enforce my neighbors,” she said.

Buchanan pointed to many issues, including cultural, that need to be studied before this bill should go forward. “Without a subcommittee (to study this issue) I would be hard pressed to support this bill.”

DeGray Vanderbilt testified that many of the issues were studied by the MoPC in 2006 and 2008 when he served as a commissioner and recommendations were made to the county. “We recommended a denial until this could be reviewed as part of the (Molokai) Community Plan.” Vanderbilt also questioned why this is only now coming before the MoPC when the county council approved the bill on March 24.

County Planning Director William Spence attended today’s meeting. If this bill is put off until after the Molokai Community Plan is adopted, he said, it will be many years before rules can enacted. Spence said if the MoPC does not approve this bill the Maui County Council will have the option to exclude Molokai from these rules. The conditional permitting rules will stay in place if Molokai bows out, said Spence.

Vice Chairperson of the MoPC, John Sprinzel, said that he operated rental properties in Kailua, Oahu in the 1980s that worked well with few complaints. The difference, said Sprinzel, is that “they had great supervision. Here you don’t have it. Now is not the time to pass this.”

“I will be the first to admit that enforcement (on Molokai) lacks,” said Spence. He went on to explain the process of warnings and fines that take place for a property found in violation.

Commissioner Zhantell Dudoit suggested using a portion of the Transient Accomodation Tax (TAT) to help pay for enforcement. Dudoit, like Buchanan, said she was also concerned about the cultural issues not addressed in the bill.

The MoPC voted to defer this issue until the next meeting when the county can better address its concerns. These included concerns over possible corporate loopholes (that would allow a company to own several TVR properties ), enforcement and parking issues and water and land appropriation issues. The commissioners also asked the planning department to include and consider the extensive comments submitted in 2006 and 2008 on this issue.

Comments on this proposed ordinance can be emailed to Flammer at or by mail to Maui County Department of Planning, 250 South High St., Wailuku, HI 96793.


One Response

  1. Maui County has never enforced the current laws on the books regarding vacation rentals and now they want to give us a new law that basically puts them in business partnership with the TVR owners, collecting permit fees and tax revenue on the rentals. The fox will be guarding the hen house when it comes to protecting the peace and quiet of our neighborhoods. Its all about money.

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