'Regulation' of B&Bs is better than 'control'
THE ongoing debate surrounding vacation rentals is considered by many state leaders to be a Kailua issue. However, this issue extends to all corners of the state, with Kailua being perceived by many as the hot spot because of a small yet vocal group of residents. Discussion on this topic should not be confined to one town on one island. The vacation rental issue is erupting not only on Oahu, but also on Kauai and Maui. All of the major Hawaiian islands have vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts, though rules governing them range from the strict to nearly none whatsoever. Tension among neighbors is rapidly rising and nearing the breaking point in many communities.
In the midst of the growing controversy, the Legislature is forging a bill that could have a major impact on VRs and B&Bs. Senate Bill 750 is primarily a tax compliance measure, but it does contain language that could greatly influence the future of transient vacation units throughout the state. The language is subtle but important.
As it is currently written, SB 750 states that the counties shall establish "control over" vacation rentals. A better term would be "regulation of" vacation rentals. I see three primary reasons why this change of wording is needed:
» It would preserve the right of county home rule. It does not mandate that the counties take any specific course of action, it just instructs the counties to take action, and using the word "regulation" calls for fair and equal treatment of all parties concerned and will encourage people on all sides of this issue to come to the table with reasonable solutions to their differences.
» It would allow counties to balance inventory of vacation rentals by preventing overproliferation in areas where the market might be saturated, while still allowing new vacation rentals or B&Bs in communities that could benefit from them. Balance is needed, not an "all or nothing" approach. For example, on Oahu where the impact of any transient vacation units legislation will be largest simply because of population levels, there has been a moratorium on TVUs since 1989. Currently, 87 percent of TVUs on Oahu would be eliminated by an "enforcement only" approach. And since our population and economy have grown since 1989, this approach is not one that would achieve balance.
» "Regulation" is a better word than "control" because it allows for no misinterpretation of the language. "Control" can (and would) be read in the context of "weed or pest control" (meaning extermination), as opposed to administrative control. Usage of the word "regulation" automatically conveys that administrative control should be established, and allows the counties latitude (home rule) as to what specific regulations, permitting standards and enforcement measures should be set in place.
Regulation is not an open-door policy to mass-permitting of vacation rentals. Regulation will not instantly convert communities overnight into mini-Waikikis, nor will it offer amnesty to operators who are now underground. Once the rhetoric and emotional arguments of both sides are stripped away, one can look at what is desperately needed: a fair and equitable standard of regulations, which will provide sustainable balance to this aspect of tourism in the islands.
I hope that the members of the Senate/House crossover committee will amend SB 750, SD 3, HD 2, to replace the phrase "control over" with "regulation of," and help bring about a fair resolution to this explosive issue.
Josh Rubino lives in Kailua.