New legislation will give counties the authority to redefine zoning ordinances to phase out short-term rentals.

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Hawaii lawmakers have passed legislation that aims to tighten restrictions on short-term vacation rentals such as Airbnbs and Vrbos in an attempt to address the state’s housing crisis following last summer’s devastating wildfire.

The bill — SB2919 — was signed by Gov. Josh Green and will give counties the authority to redefine zoning ordinances to phase out short-term rentals for conversion into long-term residential housing, something the state is in dire need of, especially after the Maui wildfires that destroyed thousands of homes and killed 100 people.

“We’re seeing in other states, and even in other countries, that governments are looking at zoning as one of the barriers to housing development,” state House Speaker Scott Saiki told reporters last week. “And it was time for Hawaii to take a look at that as well.”

The August wildfire that destroyed much of the historic town of Lahaina brought to light just how much of the town’s housing stock had been converted to short-term rentals owned by residents of the mainland United States.

“This fire uncovered a clear truth, which is: we have too many short-term rentals owned by too many individuals on the mainland,” Governor Green said during a February press conference. “I would like them to sell to local owners or at least rent long-term.”

Localities in Hawaii have already taken steps to utilize the bill for its intended purpose, such as Maui, which announced county-wide legislation that would phase out all vacation rentals operating in areas zoned for apartments by 2026 one day after the statewide legislation was passed. That bill would affect 2,200 Maui units in the Lahaina area and approximately 5,000 more elsewhere in the county according to Honolulu Civil Beat.

During a press conference, Maui Mayor Richard Bissen acknowledged that the decision will likely come with economic fallout in the form of potential loss of jobs, tax revenue, fewer tourist dollars, disruption to the real estate market and a high likelihood of lawsuits.

“We understand that there’s going to be a give and take,” Bissen said according to Civil Beat. “So the question is what is most important? And our priority is housing our local residents, especially now.”

Maui was already experiencing a housing crisis long before the massive fire exacerbated it.

The vacation rentals bill was one of multiple housing-related legislative decisions made by Hawaii’s state legislature during a meeting last week. It also appropriated $1 billion to go towards the ongoing recovery from the Lahaina fire, which included more than $120 million in rental assistance for Hawaiians not eligible for aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and $500 million for emergency housing for residents who are still displaced from their homes, according to ABC News

Email Ben Verde

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