LETTERS for the November 29 issue
Provide a means for Maui rentals to operate legally
Say you’re in desperate need of money and decide to rent a room in your Maui home through Airbnb.
You look at the other rentals being offered and decide to make your price competitive at $100 a night. You know this won’t make you a millionaire – you’re just hoping it will help with the bills.
But then you find out that a new Maui law means every night you rent out your room could represent a $9,900 loss per day, unless you have jumped through numerous legal hoops, paid all the appropriate fees and are within the legal quota set for your region.
You started out hoping to earn enough to pay your mortgage. Now you’re hoping you won’t lose your house.
For years, the Grassroot Institute of Hawaii has warned that the best way to deal with the increasing number of vacation rental properties – especially Airbnb rentals – is to create an easier path to legalization. But eager to generate tax revenue, the state and counties have opted for more stick and less carrot, proposing harsh levies and penalty schemes for vacation rentals seeking to come out of the shadows. Not surprisingly, this hasn’t persuaded many illegal rental properties to declare themselves and pursue the proper permitting.
Previously on Maui, the maximum fine was $1,000 a day. Now, after being approved by county voters, it is $20,000, with an additional $10,000 per day for each day the violation continues. Renting out your room illegally to someone vacationing on the island for ten days would mean more than $100,000 in fines. And it could keep climbing from there.
On Oahu, the Honolulu County Council is considering a measure that would impose similarly excessive fines for illegal rentals, ranging from $25,000 to $100,000 a day. For perspective, the maximum fine for felony murder in Hawaii is $50,000.
There’s a difference between a reasonable fine that flows from the nature of the offense and an excessive, purely punitive fine. That difference is enshrined in the Hawaii Constitution, where Article 1, Section 12 protects citizens from “excessive fines.” It is worth noting that this same section prohibits excessive bail and cruel and unusual punishment.
Confiscatory fines are an oppressive tool that can easily be used to ruin someone’s life and livelihood. The decision to impose high fines is not one to be taken lightly, nor should it come into play when the violation in question is more of an annoyance to others than a danger.
Under the new Maui law, someone operating an unlicensed vacation rental could rack up $1 million in fines in only 90 days. It’s hard to imagine how that can’t be considered “excessive.”
The high fines raise the possibility that they will be successfully challenged in court, which could rebound financially on the very voters who approved them, since Maui taxpayers would be the ones ultimately footing the bill for the county’s probably futile legal defense.
There is a better way of dealing with unpermitted transient accommodations in Hawaii: stop trying to grind down their owners with threats, fines and punishment. Create a simple, non-punitive path for owners to operate legally, and watch how many take advantage of the opportunity to comply with the law.
E hana kakou! (Let’s work together!)
KELI’I AKINA, PH.D., President/CEO, Grassroot Institute of Hawaii
Honolulu Rail shouldn’t use Hawaii’s General Fund
Mayor Kirk Caldwell (Honolulu) for the first time used $44 million from Hawaii’s General Fund. If he didn’t show the federal government the funds by Nov. 20, Honolulu could lose part or all of the funding to the RAIL.
Ask yourself this: Oahu wanted to raise property taxes to pay for school improvements. Why don’t they raise the gasoline tax on Oahu, since they pay the lowest gas prices? Why are WE paying for rail that benefits ONLY OAHU?
Let me get this straight. The General Fund is PAID BY ALL Hawaii residents; that means ALL Neighbor Islands also.
If I am right. I would suggest to contact Sen. Roz Baker and Rep. Angus McKelvey and say “NO!” to the Neighbor Islands paying for rail, or pursue a civil lawsuit.
I, as a taxpayer, will NOT participate or pay for rail that benefits ONLY Oahu residents. Think about it; am I wrong or right?
NAME WITHHELD BY REQUEST
Shop local this season
This holiday season, will you be among 83 percent of consumers who plan to do some portion of their holiday shopping at a small, independently owned retailer or restaurant?
These types of businesses are what keep our small communities thriving. Up and down rural main streets, shopkeepers are readying their stores for the season. They welcome shoppers from their communities and those who are just visiting. Business owners are even stocking rolls of wrapping paper to provide added value when you spend your money with a local retailer.
In support, shop local events are popping up across America.
Main street businesses are an important part of our life in rural America. I am part of the nine in ten, or 91 percent, of consumers who believe it’s more important than ever to support small businesses this holiday season. Are you?
During this holiday season, and year round, #ShopSmall. Support your community, your friends and your way of life. When local businesses succeed, we all win.
RHEA LANDHOLM, Center for Rural Affairs