Vacation rental bill clears last Senate committee

  • KIM

The inclusion of a “place of stay declaration form” for all travelers in Hawaii in a gut-and-replace bill about vacation rentals raised eyebrows among some who otherwise support the bill.

House Bill 460, unanimously advanced Thursday by the Senate Ways and Means Committee, is one of two gut-and-replace bills proposed by state Attorney General Clare Connors. Gut-and-replace occurs when the contents of an unrelated bill are removed and replaced with new language, a process that often hinders the public’s ability to understand and testify on the legislation before it moves forward.

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The other bill, House Bill 2502, gives the state Department of Health power to declare a public health emergency, and then implement provisions such as airport screening and other infection control methods.

HB 460, on the other hand, gives counties authority, whether there is a health emergency or not, to require the traveler declaration forms, detailing where the traveler intends to stay and for how long for anyone touching down at state airports.

The bills now go to the full Senate, and then back to the House, which has never considered the bills in their new incarnations.

The wording in HB 460 reflects concerns about the spread of coronavirus during the pandemic, but the bill, which would take effect on approval, has no provisions to end when the pandemic does.

The intent of the bill is to clamp down on illegal vacation rentals in the state, which Mayor Harry Kim said he fully supports. The bill gives counties subpoena power to compel records from short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb, HRBO and Homestay. And it authorizes counties to establish a registry, open to public inspection, of permitted transient vacation rentals, defined as stays of less than 30 days or a period defined by county ordinance, for compensation.

Kim recounted during an interview Thursday how his administration made licensing vacation rentals a priority after hearing many complaints from their neighbors, even before he took office.

“Most of it, I totally agree with because there are problems,” Kim said. “The County of Hawaii had no regulations governing vacation rentals.”

Still, he said, the place of stay declaration form gives him pause.

“I tried to relate this to the purpose of the bill. The purpose of this bill was to regulate vacation rentals,” he said. “I could not make that connection. There is a line that I feel that we in the government should not cross. … I really question the need of that and the relevance of that to the goals of the bill.”

Many of those submitting testimony urged the Legislature to pass it. They related stories of living near out-of-control vacationers having loud parties at all hours and otherwise disturbing the peace and tranquility of residential neighborhoods.

“The operators of illegal vacation rentals not only disturb residents in neighborhoods with single-family dwellings, but also those who live in residential condo buildings,” said Kim Jorgensen in testimony. “People on vacation are not concerned about the residents who have to get up at 6 a.m. for work or the senior citizens who are trying to live out their lives peacefully without being in a building that has turned into an illegal hotel.”

But a flurry of testimony in opposition, primarily from vacation rental owners and real estate professionals, was more recently submitted.

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“OMG! Is this real? serious? If I visit Hawaii and are required to register my whereabouts including the place I choose to stay in or move around, etc., then I wonder if I lived in the communist China’s Xinjiang that the government can watch me everywhere!!” wrote Hawaii First Realty. “This is America! Not perfect, but we should not head our community toward the direction that both homeowners and visitors are being spied, watched upon by the government.”

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

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