Clearing up county’s effort to enforce TVR law

I would like to set the record straight concerning the Planning Department’s enforcement activities relating to bed and breakfast operations: There is no crackdown; there is no stopping enforcement and the county is enforcing the law in the normal course of business. 

The permitting and enforcement of transient accommodations is a controversial topic on Kauai. Transient accommodations include short-term house rentals, short-term rentals of rooms in a house, bed and breakfast operations, etc. Not surprisingly, many have varying perceptions of transient accommodations like transient vacation rentals, with rooted opinions about their role in our communities, whether they be positive or negative. 

Naturally, the Planning Department and my role as planning director becomes a focal point for this issue. In 2008, in response to community concerns over TVR uses eroding the fabric of our rural communities, elected officials made clear the island’s policy relating to single-family TVRs. The law prohibits TVR uses from being established outside of visitor destination areas, and it was amended twice with the express purpose of strengthening the Planning Department’s implementation of the law. 

The Planning Department was put to task to enforce this law, and we responded. Over the past two years, we have implemented systems and procedures to begin effectively enforcing the TVR law, and made strategic human resources and equipment investments to build cases that could withstand civil and criminal litigation – if we are going to enforce the law, we need to win cases on behalf of the government.  

But the act of enforcement is often adversarial. In as much as we would like to say we enforce with aloha, at the end of the day, compliance with the law is factual.  Either you are — or you are not — acting within the law. 

Our primary goal has always been and shall continue to be the community’s compliance with the laws elected officials have passed. 

Recently, much attention has been paid to “bed and breakfasts,” and how our department is enforcing on these operations. Ordinance 864 states that “Bed and Breakfast” (a.k.a. homestays) require use permits under our laws. If you don’t have a permit, you’re not legal — it’s that simple. 

However, as we’ve begun to be successful at shutting down single family TVR operations, some homeowners and their attorneys are still trying to figure out how to operate resort-type operations in their residential units. One approach has been to “convert” these illegal TVRs into homestays. We’ve responded by citing these operations a second time for operating without the legally required use permit.  

We, as an agency, are tasked with fair enforcement of the law — fair. Homestays require a permit. Whether it is by intention to find a loophole or simply an honest person who made an honest mistake, if you don’t have a permit, you should not be operating. Some may argue why we don’t draw a distinction between the intent and reasons why a law is broken, but fair administration for the entire community’s sake requires us to consistently apply the law. 

Our goal is to seek compliance with the law, and for homeowners to respect these laws.

Michael Dahilig is director of planning for the county of Kauai.

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