Hawaii counties get more say over short-term rentals amid housing crisis in aftermath of Maui wildfires

A person golfs on the first day of tourism resuming in west Maui, two months after a devastating wildfire, on Oct. 08, 2023 near Lahaina, Hawaii. Mario Tama/Getty Images, FILE

(HONOLULU) — Hawaii Gov. Josh Green signed a bill into law to give counties more authority to regulate short-term vacation rentals amid the ongoing state housing crisis and aftermath of the Maui wildfires.

Now, a day after the bill signing, local advocates from Lāhainā Strong are joining County Maui Mayor Richard Bissen to announce a new policy aimed at regulating and phasing out “thousands of transient vacation rentals that have not gone through the traditional permitting process.”

The Maui wildfires in August 2023 exacerbated the island’s housing crisis, burning thousands of structures and displacing thousands of residents.

Residents have long complained about the impact of tourism and luxury home and resort development on housing accessibility, as well as the lack of affordable housing and rentals for residents.

In Lahaina, 25% of the region’s housing units are listed as short-term rentals, according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization. To the south of Lahaina, that percentage jumps to 41.8%. To the north, it jumps to 87%.

Additionally, Hawaii residents have some of the highest housing costs in the nation — about 2.7 times higher than the national average — according to the University of Hawaii Economic Research Organization.

In Maui Thursday, Mayor Bissen announced that he directed the Planning Commissions to consider phasing out and prohibiting the use of transient vacation rentals in the Apartment District, which allows condos, apartments and planned developments that are not hotels to operate as short-term rentals without any state or county permit.

“This was won through the struggle of our grassroots movement, which put the opportunity and need to tackle our Maui vacation rental crisis into the dialogue through relentless advocacy, public education, community organizing — and even a 174-day and counting sustained occupation of Kā‘anapali Beach,” said Jordan Ruidas, founder and campaigns coordinator of Lāhainā Strong.

“Now, we call on the Maui County Planning Commissions and County Council to swiftly join us in action to ensure dignified housing for fire survivors and return our communities to local people.”

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