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Short-term vacation rental owners think COVID-19 rules go too far

  • YEE

Some short-term vacation rental owners are crying foul that they can’t offer their properties even for long-term rental to locals during the coronavirus pandemic.

County Planning Director Michael Yee said Tuesday the prohibition will continue only while Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation is in effect. Currently, that’s until June 30, but it might be extended or modified depending on whether COVID-19 is under control in Hawaii and in areas from where visitors come.

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The proclamation and Mayor Harry Kim’s rules enacting it bar the use of short-term vacation rentals except for housing essential workers during the COVID-19 emergency.

“Based on the governor’s proclamations and mayor’s rules, it does not matter if a person is renting 31-plus days or six months-plus in an STVR,” Yee said in an emailed response to questions from West Hawaii Today.

“An STVR cannot take their hat off as a short-term vacation rental based on length of rental period or lease,” Yee said. “Also, being a Hawaii resident or the length of time someone has been on island does not exempt them from the STVR restriction. Only exemption is for essential workers.”

Owners and their representatives think the rules go too far. They note hotels are allowed to continue to operate and other rental operations continue as normal.

“Anytime you start making law without it actually going through the legal process sets a precedent that he can impose that he doesn’t have the authority to impose, ” said Gretchen Osgood, a Kailua-Kona real estate agent and rental property manager.

“It’s a Catch-22. … You want them to turn into long-term rental for locals, yet you won’t let them rent to locals now. … We just want a level, fair playing field for everyone and it seems like hotels get an advantage,” she said.

Short-term vacation rental owners say there’s nothing in the law or the application process that suggests the rental unit can be used only in one way or the other. They didn’t give up their right to rent long-term just because they applied for the short-term rental, they said.

“Nothing said I had to choose between the two,” said Cheryl Cook-Kallio, a former teacher and city councilwoman in the San Francisco Bay Area who owns a rental in Kona with her husband. “To prevent someone like us from using it as a long-term rental is taking away the use of our property.”

Cook-Kallio said she and her husband have been coming to Hawaii since 1981 and even spent three summers teaching at Hawaii Preparatory Academy. She said they rent out their property so they can afford to keep it to use when they visit two or three times a year.

Yee said the rules address problems tracking newcomers to the island to ensure they’re complying with the 14-day quarantine requirements.

“The goal of the lockdown is to keep potentially infected people from spreading COVID-19 on our island,” Yee said. “So as we move into re-opening, there is an abundance of caution because STVRs are spread throughout our island.”

He said neighbors of the rentals contact him with concerns and having short-term vacation rental owners comply with the shut-down orders is the best way to handle it.

Teresa Tagon of Keauhou is a concerned neighbor who wrote a letter to the editor in Tuesday’s newspaper.

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“Unhosted STVR in residential neighborhoods run rampant, doing whatever they want when there is ‘no’ on-site manager or owner,” Tagon said. “Many of these unhosted vacation renters own more than one rental and live thousands of miles from Hawaii. They do not care about trashing our neighborhoods, let alone monitoring quarantine renters.”

Email Nancy Cook Lauer at ncook-lauer@westhawaiitoday.com.

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