Vacation rental operators consider legal action

HA‘ENA — Three months after the state government ordered 16 property owners in Ha‘ena to halt vacation rental uses on conservation land by June 30, some property owners have consulted attorneys to possibly challenge the order, a state official said.

“We are in an evolving situation, and many have hired attorneys, and we are dealing with the attorneys,” said DLNR spokesman Sam Lemmo.

Liz and Michael Tiernan of San Carlos, Calif., plan to comply with the order, although they have not ruled out legal action.

In commenting on the issue, Liz Tiernan said she spoke only for herself and her husband, not for any of the other property owners.

“We are working cooperatively with the state, and absolutely don’t want to do anything against the land,” Liz Tiernan said Thursday. “The main thing is that we really want to keep our homes.”

Tiernan said she and other property owners will most likely have to sell their homes if the DLNR carries out its plans; they won’t be able to pay high mortgages without the income from the vacation rentals.

At the same time, some property owners have asked for an extension beyond this month’s deadline because “they have bookings and other commitments,” Lemmo said.

This spring, the DLNR issued notices to 16 property owners in Ha‘ena to halt alleged unauthorized use of coastline homes as vacation rentals.

Most are located around Makua Beach.

DLNR said it would impose fines of up to $2,000 a day if the owners continued operations after the June 30 deadline.

The DLNR based its actions on the interpretation of a Conservation District Use Application, which stipulates a residence cannot be used for rental or other commercial purposes. A property owner secures the CDUA before building in a state conservation area.

As far as he knows, all 16 property owners are doing business as usual at this point.

“I have no indication of any cessation of activity, because no one has confirmed that they have complied with the order,” Lemmo said yesterday.

Lemmo also said he doesn’t know if any of the property owners have filed lawsuits to contest DLNR’s actions.

Lemmo said he could not comment on whether the DLNR would enforce other alleged violators in the area.

“We are focusing on these 16 because there are conditions of their permit approval that don’t allow them to do what they are doing,” Lemmo said.

Tiernan said DLNR’s actions have been arbitrary, as owners of other properties on conservation land in Ha‘ena have not received similar notices.

Contrary to what people may say about the 16 property owners, Tiernan said she and her husband are not money-gouging millionaires.

“We are a modest middle-income family,” she said. “My husband owns a small optical store.”

Huge profits people say they have made don’t exist, she said.

“We have never made a profit on the house,” Tiernan said. “We put all the money back into the yard, house improvements and taxes.”

As part-time residents of Kaua‘i, she said she and her husband “do everything possible to improve the neighborhood.”

She said she and her husband have been responsible owners and have “religiously” paid their Hawai‘i state transient accommodation taxes and general excise taxes.

She said her one-bedroom house on the mauka side of Kuhio Highway is a one-of-a-kind possession that puts her in touch with her roots.

“I grew up on O‘ahu in the 1950s,” she said. “The beautiful thing about Ha‘ena is that it reminds one of old Hawai‘i, where there is a cultural mix.”

She said she hopes to pass on her prized possession to her children and grandchildren one day.

• Lester Chang, staff writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 225) or lchang@kauaipubco.com.

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