LIHU‘E — Before Mayor Derek Kawakami even shut down short-term vacation rentals and homestays in April, Kathy Reams changed the title of her Kaua‘i Beach Resort room to “CLOSED 3/14/20-5/31/20 #stayhome #besafe #travellater #inthistogether.” She also put a thorough description of the island’s regulations for travelers.
It might seem excessive, but potential visitors have still contacted her looking to stay, including one couple who wanted to honeymoon on Kaua‘i.
“They said they didn’t mind doing the 14-day quarantine, I told them I can’t do that,” Reams said.
While restrictions and stay-at-home orders are being lifted around the island, short-term vacation rentals and homestays have been shut down through the end of May. And even if tourists or residents come to the island, they are required to perform the state-mandated quarantine which restricts all movement to a designated residence.
Reams began renting in 2015, and over the past five years, she said she’s met some of the nicest people. “The vacation rental business is quite personal as you are opening up your home or property to initial strangers that soon become friends,” Reams said. But, no matter how nice, she said short-term rental owners need to respect the island, rules and do their part in keeping Kaua‘i healthy.
“As a responsible vacation rental owner, I shut down my vacation rental,” Reams writes in her listing’s bio. “Kaua‘i will welcome you back with ALOHA when travel restrictions are lifted!”
The county’s Planning Department continues to enforce these rules with rentals.
“The Planning Department enforcement team is actively monitoring third-party host platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO, Craigslist, etc. as well as TVR (transient vacation rental) operators’ individual websites to ensure compliance with Rule No. 5,” Planning Director Ka‘aina Hull wrote in an email last month.
“Any operation advertising for availability during the effective date of the Mayor’s Emergency Proclamations … is being put on notice of their violation,” Hull said.
Airbnb has a notice at the top of the search which advises travelers to check restrictions before booking and that “the health and safety of our communities come first. Please follow government guidelines and travel only if it’s essential.”
The department keeps a log of rentals, called the “List of Approved Homestays and Non-Conforming TVRs,” that lists the permit, tax-map-key number and property name, address and date of renewal. There are over 440 home-stays, according to this list. A search Monday on Airbnb for availability from May 12-18 shows a total of 27 stays.
The amendment made last month noted that vacationers currently on the island utilizing TVRs may stay for the remainder of their stay, but cannot book for a longer period. The Planning Department said it is monitoring these stays. It is unclear how many short-term rentals are still renting to guests.
“TVRs that had guests already here are allowed to have those guests finish out their reservation to the original departure date, with no reservation extensions granted,” Hull wrote. “The Planning Department is aware of these rentals still being in operation; however, no other TVRs should be in operation at this time.”
Owners who have shuttered their rentals, like Reams, continue to pay overhead costs. For Reams, the Homeowner Association fees at KBR are $1,260 a month, but the resort eliminated a monthly special assessment fee of $450.
Her rental is usually booked solid through sites like Airbnb and VRBO. She has been refunding her guests 100%, overriding her own cancellation policy.
To operate a transient vacation rental, owners must register with the county and pay an application fee. A TVR renewal form packet is $750, and must be submitted for each dwelling space, which in turn earns the rental a spot on the approved list. When searching rentals online, many cite its permit number.
Homestays and TVRs still in operation outside of compliance or advertising can face a misdemeanor charge, which can lead to a fine of up to $5,000 and/or jail time of not more than a year.
Reams, who is a nurse herself, has offered her rental as a Hero Room available for first responders to use.
“There hasn’t been a need on Kaua‘i, but it’s here for those who need it,” Reams said.
Sabrina Bodon, public safety and government reporter, can be reached at 245-0441 or email@example.com.