Residents speak out on vacation rental rules

  • A home along Alii Drive is available for vacation rentals. (West Hawaii Today file photo)

Proposed rules for vacation rentals received a frosty reception Friday evening during a public hearing in Hilo.

The rules are being drafted to enforce a bill the Hawaii County Council passed last year regulating use of short-term vacation rentals. Those are defined as rentals where the owner doesn’t reside, are rented for less than 30 days, and have no more than five bedrooms.


A sticking point was the declaration of areas where these vacation rentals are allowed, and steps existing businesses outside of those areas must take to remain legal.

According to the bill, nonhosted short-term vacation rentals are prohibited in residential and agricultural zones.

Existing rentals in those areas must receive a non-conforming use permit in order to be grandfathered in.

Speakers at the public hearing, attended by more than 80 people, said the proposed rules are too onerous and costly.

They said their communities, such as Volcano and Puna, depend on such businesses, and there’s no guarantee they can continue if they are in a non-conforming area.

“Our livelihoods are at stake,” said Lucretia Worster of Volcano.

Proposed rules include a $500 application fee, which applies to all short-term vacation rentals, and a $250 renewal fee for those in non-conforming areas.

To register with the county, the draft rules would require rental owners to submit an application, tax licenses, floor plan, plot plan, publishing of addresses in the local newspapers, among others.

Those in non-conforming areas said they were concerned they have to go through all those steps and expense and still be denied. They see the rules as granting the Planning Department too much discretion.

“This is just shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Donna Hurst, regarding economic impacts.

Several noted publishing addresses of rentals in the newspapers would make them targets for burglaries.

Planning Director Michael Yee said he can’t guarantee that all non-confirming use permits will be approved based on the bill the council passed.

“We don’t want you in an area that’s non-conforming,” he said. “Whether or not you like it or not, it’s not my choice either.”

The county sought to regulate short-term vacation rentals because of their impacts on residential areas.

Honomu resident Dan Whetstone testified at the hearing that his life has been disrupted by a vacation rental next door, with a pool and waterslide.

“Since then, most of our days consist of hearing yelling and screaming from the vacation rental as the kids and adults use the pool during the day and then loud talking and laughing as they sit on the back lanai eating and drinking,” he said.

“… It’s like living next door to a resort hotel or the community pool.”

Yee said proposed rules will be amended based on some of the feedback.


A final public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. April 2 at the Aupuni Center conference room in Hilo.

Email Tom Callis at

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