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A bill introduced on Hawaii Island seeks to limit the number of guests in short-term vacation rentals.

On the Big Island, efforts are underway to bring more vacation rentals under county supervision and to limit the number of new units.

Heather Kimball and Ashley Kierkiewicz of the Hawaii County Council are sponsoring legislation that would require hosted vacation rentals to register with the county, similar to laws governing “unhosted” short-term vacation rentals. A hosted transient rental is a property with an on-site owner or manager and a unit rented to an individual or group for less than 180 days.

One of the objectives is to reduce the growing number of vacation rentals, which, according to the sponsors, are reducing long-term housing stock for residents and increasing housing costs and rents.

The draught ordinance has piqued the public’s interest, as evidenced by the hundreds of people who registered for a webinar on Nov. 21.

If the bill is passed, transient rental operators will be required to pay an initial registration fee, an annual renewal fee, and follow a slew of rules. Some of the rules concern on-site parking, the submission of site and floor plans, the contact information for all registered property owners and managers, notification to neighbouring properties, and other matters.

Failure to do so may result in a $10,000 fine.

The bill would impose a guest limit of two adults per bedroom and an additional two adults for the entire unit. Individuals could only operate one transient accommodation rental in addition to their primary residence unless they are a licenced realtor.

Commercial weddings, receptions, and events would be prohibited unless special permits were obtained.

So far, feedback on the proposed ordinance has been mixed, according to Kimball, whose district includes North and South Hilo as well as Hamakua. Some residents are relieved that the county is increasing oversight of transient accommodations because some of these establishments cause excessive noise and parking problems, detract from the character of neighbourhoods, and drive up housing costs.

Others are concerned that the proposed bill will have a negative financial impact if they are unable to operate a transient or vacation rental for whatever reason.

According to Kimball, the bill includes exemptions and grandfather clauses and is not intended to put anyone out of business.

“We are still allowing people to operate short-term vacation rentals on their own property, and they can start it up at any time. “All they have to do is follow the operational standards and register,” Kimball explained.

“We understand that this is a critical way for people to make ends meet.”

Anyone who has a hosted vacation or transient rental with an operator on site would be grandfathered under the bill. It also includes any hosted rental that was not the owner’s primary residence but was still in operation as of November.

People who rent to travelling nurses and students would be exempt under the bill.

Cindy Evans, a County Council member who represents North and South Kohala, said the bill as written is lengthy and complicated.

“It’s still in the works. “That’s how it appears to me,” Evans said.

She believes the authors will include a slew of details to gauge public reaction, and that the final product will look quite different.

Evans proposed that the bill be streamlined or split into two bills to make it easier to understand.

According to spokesman Ilihia Gionson, the Hawaii Tourism Authority supports Hawaii County’s efforts to regulate the vacation rental industry.

“We all live in neighbourhoods, and the extent to which short-term vacation rentals affect those neighbourhoods varies greatly,” he said.

They work fine in some places. Others may find them burdensome, he claims.

“The Hawaii Tourism Authority has made effective regulation of short-term vacation rentals a priority. “The proliferation of short-term vacation rentals has had a significant impact on our kamaaina communities, and it is critical to regulate this,” he said.

Kimball believes the bill will help alleviate the Big Island’s severe housing shortage by making it more difficult for absentee landlords and offshore speculators to buy existing properties and resell them to vacationers rather than island residents who desperately need housing.

Outside of resort areas, new transient accommodation rentals will be permitted only if they are at the owner’s primary residence or if the owner has an onsite manager.

“The county has a lot of outside investment and speculation. “Instead of being made available to local residents, property is picked up and land-bagged by outside investors and used for transient accommodations,” Kimball said.

The bill is intended to “turn off the tap” on new transient accommodation rentals unless they are located in tourist-friendly areas of the island.

The bill’s sponsors plan to introduce it in January or February, following another public information session on Jan. 20. They have created a Frequently Asked Questions document to help the public learn more about the bill.

Following its introduction, the proposed legislation would be reviewed by the leeward and windward planning commissions and subjected to public hearings before returning to the council for further action and a final vote.

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