LIHUE — Even with the announcement Wednesday the county of Kauai will allow legal transient vacation rentals (TVR) in the Lumaha‘i, Wainiha and Ha‘ena area, the county has yet to implement new software that will be used to track illegal TVRs, something Planning Director Ka‘aina Hull has been tasked with spearheading.
“The answer is two-fold,” Hull said when asked what the difference between a legal TVR and illegal TVR is. “TVRs are legally allowed to operate in the Visitor Destination Areas, so any TVR in these areas are legal. Outside of the Visitor Destination Area, the only legal TVRs are those that hold valid non-conforming use certificates, and there are approximately 420 of these TVRs outside of the Visitor Destination Area. So any other TVR operating outside of the Visitor Destination Areas are in illegal operation and need to shut down.”
The penalty for operating an illegal TVR can be up to $10,000 per day of operation.
The county hopes to successfully identify more illegal TVR operations and take enforcement action on them accordingly, Hull said of the new software that will track illegal TVRS. The county has issued the bid award for the software to Host Compliance, a San Fransisco born company that works with over 230 local governments. Currently, the county is in contract negotiations with Host Compliance.
“We approximate there are roughly 3,500 to 4,000 vacation rentals legally occurring in the vacation rental zone and we have no problem with it,” Hull said at the February 27 Kauai County Council meeting when he was called before the council to give an update on the status of TVR enforcement. “They’re where they are supposed to be, they are paying their taxes.”
Hull estimated at the meeting there are 420-425 vacation rentals outside of the Visitor Destination Area on Kauai that hold non conforming use certificates that operate legally as well.
According to Hull, in 2015 there were 77 zoning compliance notices issued with roughly 60-65 reported closures that year, earning $22,000 in fines. In 2016, 62 closures occurred, earning the county $28,000 in fines. In 2017 there was a shift within the zoning enforcement team, focusing on monitoring online illegal TVR listings. The focus shift resulted in 105 zoning compliances issued and 93 closures with $85,000 in fines collected. In 2018, the team issued 16 compliance notices and had 20 closures, garnering $52,000 in fines.
“We anticipate roughly getting about 100 to 120 zoning compliances and hopefully closures this year,” Hull said at the February meeting, later adding his office estimates there are somewhere around 800-1200 illegal vacation rentals.
“In response to third party host platforms like air b and b and vrbo that have become such a nuisance and such an issue in many of the cities around the world have actually sprung up software and programs that use similar algorithms and similar techniques that third party host platforms are using to hide the locations, these guys are actually using their software to root out what the actual locations are. And they’re essentially unveiling their services to municipalities like Kauai to use them to identify those that our team can’t do through active online monitoring.”
After the initial zoning violation has been served, a fine is given when the second notice of violation is served. The addition of the software will enhance the county’s ability to locate illegal vacation rentals and serve notices of violation, according to Hull.
“We do believe that Host Compliance has unique digital capabilities that the County does not have, and they will successfully identify illegal vacation rentals that have to date been able to evade our identification and enforcement processes,” Hull said of Host Compliance.