Vacation rentals measure on hold

A bill regulating vacation rentals has been pulled from consideration until the Board of Ethics can determine whether North Kona Councilwoman Karen Eoff has a conflict of interest in co-sponsoring it.

The county Ethics Board, which next meets March 19, likely will consider Eoff’s request for an opinion as well as a complaint from vacation rental owner Rob Guzman.


In a letter Tuesday to the council, Eoff asked that Bill 108 be withheld from referral to a committee until after the Ethics Board rules on any conflict of interest. The bill originally was scheduled to be heard Feb. 20.

“As a duly elected councilperson, with a responsibility to address the issues important to my constituents, I take this responsibility very seriously,” Eoff said in a statement Wednesday. “When concerns were raised about my role regarding Bill 108, I took immediate and proper measures to address those concerns.

“I would prefer not to comment any further until the Board of Ethics has reviewed my petition,” she added.

Guzman’s complaint addresses the conflict of interest question as well as whether Eoff ran afoul of the ethics code when she misrepresented her ownership of a vacation rental condo in email exchanges with him and told him not to pursue his questions. He also questioned why her annual financial disclosure report did not include income from the condo unit.

“I am writing today to request an investigation into Councilwoman Karen Eoff given her various recent actions regarding Bill No. 108, which include lying to a voter about her ownership of a rental property, pressuring a voter not to share information, and failing to disclose income from this property on a form required of her in her position as an elected official,” Guzman said in a letter Tuesday to the Ethics Board.

A Feb. 8 email conversation between Eoff and Guzman, copied to newspaper reporters, showed Eoff at first denied she had a vacation rental. Guzman was pressing Eoff to explain why she shouldn’t recuse herself from the legislation because of her own property holdings.

“I do not have — and have never had — a rental of any kind,” Eoff said in the email. “Please stop sending misinformation.”

When confronted with the record of her transient accommodations tax license, she backed off that assertion, saying she misunderstood.

Kona Councilman Dru Kanuha, the other co-sponsor of the bill, said Wednesday he supports holding the bill back until the ethics questions are resolved.

“I think it’s a great opportunity to discuss this with the public who will be affected by this bill and see other options and ways to improve it,” Kanuha said.

Bill 108 would require existing transient vacation rentals outside of the Vacation District, the General Commercial District or Resort Nodes to apply for a nonconforming use certificate in order to be grandfathered in.

Those in the allowed districts, such as Eoff, would be required to register with the county, but they don’t have to apply to the Planning Department for a nonconforming use permit.

While many vacation rental operators and real estate agents are up in arms about limiting rental activity in residential and agriculture zones, other residents in neighborhoods being overtaken by vacation rentals hope to see a solution.

There were 4,500 Big Island listings on the Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway websites Wednesday, according to Leleiwi resident Stefan Buchta, who’s compiling data for a presentation to the County Council. Buchta worries the bigger picture is being lost in the controversy over Eoff’s possible conflict of interest.


“At the current growth rate, there will be 10,000 short-term rentals on our island next year,” Buchta said in an email. “Bill 108 is not perfect, but it is the best thing we have to put a Band-Aid on the problem and stop the bleeding. Please let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater!”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at

  1. Rusty Da Clown February 15, 2018 6:30 am

    Can Eoff just un-sponsor it and let it move along? It’s important legislation as people buy second and third homes just to Airbnb em out, making it harder for people to find homes to rent.

    1. David Currier February 15, 2018 7:23 am

      Folks against vacation rentals act like Trump supporters; they refuse to pay attention to the facts. Most vacation rentals are not suitable for long term rentals. The County refuses to enforce existing eviction laws, so why should a property owner rent long term when they won’t be able to evict bad tenants? The State and Counties have done nothing to provide low income housing development either by financing construction or by working with developers to provide private solutions. Why should an individual property owner rent a dwelling for 30% of what the market will support while at the same time working at minimum wage themselves? Studies show that tourists staying in vacation rentals spend more into local economies than do tourists at major hotels.

      1. Citizen X February 15, 2018 10:34 am

        David Currier: You are uninformed and non-compassionate and are also being disingenuous. Exactly how many landlords do you know who work for minimum wage? Give us a break with your specious claims!

        Have you any idea whatsoever of how many thousands of people are living long-term in substandard “housing” on this island? Many people live in tents because they can’t find any affordable housing. Would-be landlords rent out 12″x12′ ramshackle off-grid shacks for over $500 a month!

        The answer is NOT more public housing! Greedy landlords take advantage of an Airbnb-depleted rental market that enables them to charge rents that are completely out of line with local incomes. Airbnb is the worst thing to ever hit Hawaii’s housing market. It needs to be regulated, and limited as to the number and types of units that are taken off-market, period.

        1. Julie Lawrence February 15, 2018 12:01 pm

          I say this with true Aloha and respect for all. Let’s keep in mind that property ownership is private, we work and save and buy and pay. On our own.
          The answer IS more State and County support of affordable housIng. Market prices (rents) are driven by supply and demand. Nothing to do with local incomes. Not enough housing means high demand, and, because property ownership is PRIVATE, an owner can charge whatever the market will bear. Families are doubling up because there is nothing AFFORDABLE. You can find a rental if you can pay market price…
          Providing housing tied to community income levels IS the job of State and County. I worked hard to buy and keep my home, maybe I’ll have to rent out a room to make ends meet. That’s my right as a property owner. It’s not my “duty” to provide affordable housing which is what a regulation would do. Rather it is our community responsibility to insure that everyone has the dignity of affordable shelter. And we do that as a community through our taxes, our housing programs, and our elected officials. I make a better contribution when I earn from renting my property so I can pay taxes so govt has $ to provide affordable housing 🙂.

          1. Citizen X February 15, 2018 12:23 pm

            Renting out a room in your own residence is far different from buying up multiple homes in order to use them in the temporary accommodations business. Those businesses not only take housing out of the rental/purchase market for full-time residents, but also turn once-quiet neighborhoods into busy commercial sites. As one example, I’ve seen Kehena become a virtual resort site in the past few years, and my neighborhood became much noisier and less pleasant to live in.

            The onslaught of transient accommodations in neighborhoods is a problem that needs to be solved through regulations that severely limit such business takeovers of the local housing market.

          2. panzrwagn February 16, 2018 11:22 am

            Citizen X, the disparity between income levels and housing costs is very real, but is not being driven by vacation rentals. Rather it is being driven by the housing costs themselves., which on this island are running around $250 per square foot, including property. To be affordable, the building costs need to be well under $200 Ft2, and probably around $150 Ft2 or less. The only way that can happen is with government participation in funding affordable housing. The kind of regulation you describe only drives prices up by limiting supply.

            As for off-grid 12X12 shacks tents, containers, and city buses, those obviously are an issue on several levels, not the least being the public health issues of water and waste. I’ll leave esthetics and security out of the equation for now.

            I personally have helped build affordable housing in the colonias outside Tijuana, moving people – families working in the maquilladoras – from their ‘Blue-tarp and garage door’ dirt-floor housing into 320 ft2 2-bedroom houses with sanitary outhouses. I am familiar with the challenges and sensitive to the cultural issues involved. As ample examples on the mainland have demonstrated, building ‘projects’ is not building community. We need to be building communities that include mixed income housing.

            Finally, if renters are noisy or disruptive to the neighborhood, that is a tenant management issue for the owner. As for Kehena beach, when I drove through that area last weekend, the vast majority of cars (the place was packed) I saw were not the Mustang convertibles or shiny new SUVs favored by short term renters/tourists, they were local cars. Anybody want to volunteer to count vehicle types visiting Kehena to get the real data?

          3. Citizen X February 16, 2018 1:01 pm

            Panzerwgn: I’ll accept your bona-fides, and applaud your efforts in Mexico, as well as your sensitized outlook.

            To answer some of your points:
            (1) I would say that the biggest cause for high housing costs here was the adoption of mainland-style building codes in an area where they were never necessary from any standpoint.

            Plantation-style housing with its uninsulated single-wall construction and post-and-pier supports were fine for over 100 years. Sure termites and weather get to them eventually, but not before a few generations of inexpensive housing having been provided for the vast population of very low income residents.

            Earthquakes don’t appear to have been a big problem either, so why the need for mainland-style codes that only serve to enrich the building suppliers and major corporations?

            ONE SOLUTION would be to legalize all the ohana housing units, and to also permit multiple dwellings on larger lots. Standards could be dropped down to workable and affordable levels. that would provide all that is really needed. The housing supply could be vastly increased in this way.

            (2) Re: the Airbnb renters, I wasn’t speaking of beach-goers, but rather of the houses in Kehena which are now being used for short-term rentals. It’s the constant swirl of tourists in and out of those properties that is noisy, unpleasant to be around, and too busy for the neighborhood while also taking much-needed housing units out of the marketplace for full-time residents to utilize. Short-term rentals in non-owner-occupied units need to be curtailed, and confined to the condos and resort areas of Kona.

            The severe lack of housing for full-time residents of this island needs to be creatively addressed, and in-tune with far less expensive construction and zoning possibilities. I am glad that the conversation exists. We need to resolve this problem and its attendant social costs.

          4. panzrwagn February 16, 2018 3:41 pm

            Well, our 3-bed 2-bath house was built in 2016, has no insulation, no HVAC, and is built on-slab from borate treated lumber and sheathed with Hardi-Plank, and has a steel roof, so it will never see a termite or rot, and the costs were only marginally higher (<3%) than using T1-11 plywood and untreated lumber. No BigCorp got rich selling me seismic ties and a few sheets of OSB for shear walls. Upgrades to meet all the seismic codes contributed less than $2,000 to the overall project cost, and I'm Ok with that. I like my roof to stay over my head, not on it.

            I'm also OK with smaller lots/higher density provided the septic and water systems can support it. Right now, the tidepools at Kapoho are little more than overflow capacity for the local cesspools, and the warm water makes a fine home for all kinds of pathogenic bacteria. Too much density, too little containment.

            This is probably the biggest single problem for the entire Island, because the lava isn't the greatest media for drainfields, and is kinda tough to put a municipal sewer in. Can you imagine the cost of digging and installing sewer lines on all 116 miles of HPP for example? Plus the cost of a modern sewage treatment plant? Yeah, me neither.

            But sorry, I can't find any evidence to support "taking much-needed housing units out of the marketplace for full-time residents" the numbers just aren't there. Show me better numbers than what I posted earlier and I'll reconsider. What is the demand for affordable housing and what is the supply? Verifiable numbers. And if the demand can be met for a reasonable return on investment, the supply problem self-corrects. Econ 101.

            In the meantime I have a nearly $500K investment in the local economy, and several people providing ongoing services I need to pay for. So I will be renting it for those months when we're not on the island - not to get rich or to be greedy, just to offset the costs. Unless you want to buy it from me or lease it full-time for $3,500 a month. You see, it's not - never was intended to be - affordable housing. It's in a different market.

          5. Kona Scene March 13, 2018 12:23 pm

            All investments have risk involved and you’ll be taking a loss eventually because while you’re worrying about your “investment” there’s plenty of homeless kids out there that have no roof over their head to speak of.

          6. panzrwagn February 16, 2018 10:41 am

            Well written and spot-on. Thank you.

  2. thebamboo February 15, 2018 6:50 am

    It will be interesting to know what the Ethics Board decides.

    1. Steve Dearing February 16, 2018 3:34 pm

      The demo rats unethical board will make an unethical decision based on an unethical demo rat agenda that lies to its foolish constituents whom elected these crooks that caused the problem to start with, unaffordable housing for residents.

  3. panzrwagn February 16, 2018 10:40 am

    Using HPP as an example, a lot costs at least $40,000. Ripping and lot prep is another ~$20,000 and a well or catchment and septic system are another $25,000. A 3-bedroom 2-bath house of around 1300 FT2 is going to cost at least $250,000 (and a few upgrades easily pushes that to $300,000). So, figure at least $335,000 for a new housing unit – unfurnished and unlandscaped. With 10% down, the mortgage would be around $1500 per month. Plus a couple hundred for taxes, and probably similar amounts for utilities and insurance. All in that’s well over $2,000 a month. To afford that requires an annual income of nearly $50,000. If I wanted to build that home for long term rental, I would need to rent it for more than that to make it a worthwhile investment. When furnished and landscaped (another upwards of $100,000 investment), these homes are more typical of what are being built and offered as vacation rentals. So in large, vacation rentals are not removing inventory from the affordable housing market, they are a separate market entirely.

  4. MilitantModerate February 17, 2018 10:07 pm

    If vacation rentals is not a “permitted use” of residences in residential districts then why does the county issue tax licenses for them? Maybe they just like taking in the 14% TAT wherever they can get it?

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