Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Musings: Sob Stories

Though The Garden Island has done a great job of printing B&B/homestay sob stories, it hasn't touched on the real tragedy: illegal TVRs trying to slip in under the wire and totally unsuitable B&Bs.

Take, for example, these AirBnB ads. One offers an airbed in a beachfront tent at Haena for $245 per night, while the other is a futon in a tent at Haena Beach Park for $40/night. So we've got folks pimping public beaches and facilities for profit.

Then there's simple greed, like the Haena house that offers two units, one of them an illegal B&B on the ground floor in the flood zone. The property is owned by Leila Kawaihalau and others. It's right next to a permitted TVR that made the Abuse Chronicles, and which Leila  also operates, so she can't exactly make like she never knew the rules.

Though she knew the county was no longer issuing TVR permits, Leila converted half of her house into one "B&B," then enclosed the downstairs to make a studio, with refrigerator, microwave, coffee-maker and separate entrance. 

While her ads hype the beautiful beach:
Tourists stay in this funky, illegal ground-floor enclosure:
Totally oblivious to the tsunami and wave inundation risks that come with being "less than 50 yards from the beach:"
And this is an area of big waves:
That do wash up onto the house lot:
Despite all the vegetation that's been planted on the public beach:
So is the Council, as it ponders the B&B/homestay ordinance, preparing to let stuff like this slide? 

Even as it endangers flood insurance for the entire island? Because the county is still under investigation by FEMA for allowing ground-floor bedrooms in the flood zone.

The Garden Island has portrayed the planning department as a heavy-handed bully destroying the livelihood of old folks and those simply pursuing a means to live on Kauai. 

But with its recent enforcement action, the planning department is doing exactly what the County Council ordered it to do when we exposed the TVR mess through the Abuse Chronicles. Though a Council majority declined to conduct an investigate, it directed the department to go after the “low-hanging fruit.” Or in other words, the guys operating illegally, with no permits.

The B&B/homestays were caught up in the sweep, prompting many of them to claim they'd tried to get permits, but failed because there was no process. But that doesn't jibe with the fact that some B&B permits were indeed issued in the past, though they're no longer in business.

And in reality, very few B&Bs were affected by the crack down. As of early May the county had issued just 93 cease and desist orders, of which only about 10-15 went to actual B&B/ homestays.

I discussed this issue with Beth-Ann Kozlovich on Hawaii Public Radio's “The Conversation” yesterday morning. She opened the segment with this:

When does your spare room become a business and who should regulate it? How those questions are answered on Kauai is splitting the community as they are debated in the County Council.

I reframed it to this:

The question many residents are asking is how much of the island should be in resort uses?

And this:

It all comes down to whether the Council has the political will to cut off all those illegal vacation rental owners. Many of them have a sense of entitlement since they've been paying the higher TVR property tax rate, even though they don't have TVR permits.

We'll just have to wait and see.


  1. What a MESS!!!

    Surprising that the county of Kauai hasn't hired CONSULTANTS to do their jobs.

    Obvious incompetence and corruption going on.

    It's almost as bad as the welfare scamming swindlers.


  2. To take your posting in a slightly different direction...

    In addition to your reframed question, "The question many residents are asking is how much of the island should be in resort uses?," I would also ask: "What is the housing mix we want for this island?"

    There is a serious shortage of housing units and rentals on the island. TVRs have certainly contributed to that problem.

    But how is local government encouraging owners to provide housing for local residents? Certainly not by taxing an entire owner-occupied property as "commercialized home use" when just one bedroom is rented out on an affordable long-term lease to a local working resident who can't afford to buy a house. And not by making it illegal to have a second kitchen in a guesthouse or `ohana unit that could be used as a verified long-term rental for a resident.

    On other islands and elsewhere, these options are considered part of a diversified resident housing mix. But here a homeowner feels like a criminal for considering these options, even though the rent would be reported as income. If there is not enough rental housing and rents are high, why doesn't Planning find ways to expand options for low and middle income full-time residents, not limit them?

    I'm afraid the answer would be that so many people have abused the rules (like some TVR owners) that these simple solutions to benefit residents are not allowed.

  3. There is also the question of fraud by homeowners claiming home stay, paying $25 in real property tax and then renting the house out as a long term rental, while charging residents who need homes high rent rates. This needs to be investigated as well.

    Get cracking real property - the Mayor needs those tax dollars to continue to pay off those ongoing EEOC settlements.

  4. The planning department is partially responsible for allowing TVR owners to abuse the system by an incompetent review of 'required' documents.

  5. I'm all for eliminating the illegal over-the-top TVRs in disguise. But if I live in a house, I think I should be able to rent out the unused rooms when the kids are away to bring in a little extra kala.

    I also respectfully take issue with the claim that the B&B operators have all known that a permit was required. Dozens of people have come forward to say that they went to the Planning Dep't to inquire about permits and the Planning Dep't employees told them no need for a permit- or there is no such process - or wait until the County starts regulating those to apply.

    This happened to me too. I naively figured I could rely on what they told me at the Planning Department. I just wish the County would be honest and admit that its planners gave bad advice to many people for many years, and even the Planing Dept fellas thought there was no law prohibiting renting rooms in your own house.

    Way too many people have come forward with the same story about what the Planning employee told them at the counter for this to be dismissed as false. At least it would seem more fair if the County would just admit its role in creating this mess.

  6. @ 2:05 - good observations.

    You are right that the County contributes to the housing shortage by "making it illegal to have a second kitchen in a guesthouse or `ohana unit that could be used as a verified long-term rental for a resident."

    As it is now, you you can go to jail for a year if you rent your Ohana to a local long-term tenant and she plugs in a microwave, or a toaster, or a rice cooker. This over-strict kitchen rule was probably the result of a certain recent case, but maybe its time to take a step back and revisit it from a more common sense perspective.

    Who really cares if someone warms up their Zippys chili in the guest house anyway?

  7. @6:35 PM

    These B&B and TVR opperators have no regard for the law as you yourself have stated. If we allow kitchens in guest cottages the next step will be kitchens in all bedrooms and even in tents on a property. But hey if you're only after a buck then get into a legit business. Don't expect the rest of us to say why heck lets turn Kauai into a slum because 6:35 PM needs the dough. It will never happen. Too funny.

  8. Joan - Looked on airbnb at the tent in Haena beach park. They are just providing a tent. Put up and tear down. The quest gets the permits. What's wrong with that?

  9. Part of the affordable housing problem is a result of government. Case in point…a friend with a large high end property in Kilauea has a legal 2 bedroom cottage with a proper TVR. There is also a 4 bedroom main house with no TVR that was rented to a family. The 2 bedroom cottage was bringing in double what the main house did. Not long ago her property tax was reassessd based on there being a TVR for the cottage. Since this was classified as a Vacation Rental, her property taxes went from $9500 per year to $52,000. The county is accessing the entire property as TVR even though she can not rent the main house as a TVR. To rectify this, she hired an attorney and still has not been provided any relief. When the tenants lease expired she asked them to leave and now quietly rents the main house as a vacation rental in order to afford the property tax. The main house that was taking in $4000 per month now does that per week.The system is broken and the solution is not in sight.

  10. 4:51
    lame excuse for illegal renting the main house, she could have just as easily long term rented the cottage and cut her taxes in half. Don't blame the county for rising taxes on your vacation rental property.

  11. Sickening to see people renting out tents on our public beaches. The person who is renting out the tents for $245 a night in Haena also has an ad for renting tents on Hanalei Bay. This is disgusting, selling our natural resources and putting visitors where they don't belong.

  12. The County will be in for a big surprise if this goes to Court. There has always been a "it's OK" attitude from Planning to operate a BnB.
    Regardless what the new Asst Planning Director shrieks publicly. He maintains that there have always been rules. Maybe, but the information from the County has been confusing, directionally applied and confusing.
    I am against the TVR blight on the North Shore, but the heavy handed methods by Planning will be shot down.
    Remedy- All property owners and renters on KAUAI deny any access to your property to anyone from the government (except emergency) make them get a search warrant. The flyovers by the County helicopter will be deemed an unreasonable violation of the expectation of quiet enjoyment. Make the County overlords work for their money....let's see if the Courts will give a search warrant for suspected Bnb, grading or illegal rental.....Hanamaulu, Puhi and Kapahi are exempt from all County illegal rental searches....that's where have the people actually live. And there are lots of rice cookers and hotplates included.

  13. "the next step will be kitchens in all bedrooms"

    OMFG - a hippie plugged in a hot plate in the bedroom. Nooo! The island is ruined. Call the cops. He converted a bedroom into a kitchen. Its happening everywhere.

  14. @ 8:04am

    Let me hand you a tissue.

  15. Here's the real problem: tourists who morph into residents who then morph into tourist accommodators. No sense of neighborhood or community, just cram 'em in where ever you can fit 'em and don't forget to tell 'em about all the special places so that everyone can have that tourist experience whether they want it or not.

  16. Why are you attacking The Garden Island for reporting "sob stories"? The article clearly stated that the county is going after illegal TVR operators. It didn't defend those people.

    But just because the county has a good goal, doesn't mean that it acted properly when it shut down the small number of B&Bs. What is wrong with reporting on how the county's actions have affected those people? It's like you think you have to criticize anything that doesn't align with your goal of getting rid of the illegal TVRs. The county claims it had a permit process, but there are clearly a lot of people who say the county was not following it's own rules.

    This article had a lot of research behind it - things you didn't even know. You just want to gloss over this information.

    Please explain how the county can justify telling people they didn't need permits, and then shutting them down without any warning?

    THE LAST PERMIT WAS ISSUED IN 2004 and there have only been nine issued, ever. So you are saying that every single person who has run a B&B since then has just been trying to break the law? Even though they've been properly paying their taxes? Some probably were, but plenty were clearly trying to do the right thing.

    I agree with your point that we need to get rid of the illegal TVRs, but you undermine your own credibility when you attack Kauai residents who pay their taxes who tried to do the right thing.

    Instead of reflexively attacking anything that doesn't line up with your way of thinking, maybe you should re-read the article and consider some of the other perspectives.

    You might get more allies that way, instead of people who are going to fight against you.

  17. I think the confusion over the legality of B&B's is similar to 2008's addressing of single family transient vacation rentals aka TVR's. The County of Kauai didn't have regulations regarding TVR's before then. The County laws only addressed multi-unit vacation rentals, i.e. hotels and time-shares. So when the TVR law was passed and implemented, those TVR’s operating legally (legal structures and paying all taxes) were approved and grandfathered even though they were not in a Visitor Destination Area. (VDA). But TVR's (and B&B's) that were on State-regulated agricultural lands were not OK'd (or addressed) because the State has long required special use permits of them. In the case of B&B's the County had no regulations but planned to address them after they got the TVR regulations in place. That is only happening now. So B&B's in residential areas (VDA or not) will most likely be permitted if they conform to the legal precedent of having operated legally heretofore, but those on ag land still have the problem of being illegal if they didn't not possess a State permit.

    To confuse the situation more, the State wanted out of regulating less than "important ag lands" granting regulatory power/jurisdiction to the counties. The State charged the counties with identifying exactly which ag lands those are. I'm not sure if Kauai’s completed that as it's been going on for a long time. So I have to agree that owners of B&B's in residential areas can site the County for not addressing their status before now and that the cease & desist letters received by those (non-ag land) B&B's are legally unenforceable and an error on the County's part. But then we've also got to understand that the County keeps making new laws to enforce without adding new personnel to enforce them and having to raise taxes even more to hire them. Remember, every new law that passed needs people with salaries & benefits to carry it out. This is the costly (to us taxpayers) downside of governments like our County Council that keep passing new laws to enforce.

  18. @May 13, 2015 at 7:47 AM

    That's ridiculous. They can find your illegal rental on craigslist, airb&b, vrbo.com etc. -no need to do search warrants. What are you talking about?!? People don't only live in Hanamaulu, Puhi and Kapahi. But many locals and old Kauai families ARE getting pushed out of their north shore homes & neighborhoods because illegal TVR's & B&B's are inflating property prices there.

    The County says they're going after people but look at Ed Ben-Dor - he only got a slap on the wrist from the judge and could've afforded to be made an example of.

  19. @May 13, 2015 at 10:27 AM

    I hate to say it, but do away with all TVR's and B&B's and there's still a myriad of wealthier than you offshore investors buying up houses here as second homes, or moving here with more kala than you, and driving up prices beyond your reach. Sure TVR's may exacerbate that somewhat, but the price of Kauai homes will continue to be out of reach of most middle class buyers. That's not only because of the high price of building materials that must be shipped in and high high cost of labor & taxes, but primarily due to County regulations that make it difficult, if not impossible, to build affordable housing without government or non-profit cash support. You're espousing the same proven-to-be-wrong myth as "KIUC will lower our utility bills."

  20. Dear 9:06 -- There's a big difference between attacking and criticizing.

    I criticized TGI because it has published several articles on how operators are suffering, including the sickening blow job that John Hoff got. But never once have they reported the stories of residents who are unhappy with their neighborhoods being turned into resorts.

    And what ever gave you the idea that I am seeking allies? I just put it out there. I don't care if people agree with me or not.

  21. Joan,

    Your Sob Stories post is aptly titled. Reading your chronicle makes clear that while there are probably some well run BnBs, responsibly managed by good people, there are also a bunch who run shlockey operations barely meeting the standard of decency. So the image of Mrs. BnB purveying aloha to guests is really not the image at all, or at least in many cases. Reality is somewhere between that and a tent to rent. Then there's the TVRs trying to sneak a BnB permit. How many unpermitted TVRs and BnBs are out here? Shouldn't we know that number before a single permit is issued?

    Under the circumstances the County is wise to go slow; like limit applications to no more than 10 per year (so they have time to research each request properly), allow resident input (neighbors know what is going on next door and will offer opinions about compatibility cumulative impact, parking, sewage).

    Also, from the outset, residents have asked for a limit on the number of BnB permits. Unacceptable will be any proposal that allows for an open ended ceiling on numbers. No repeats of the mistakes made with TVRs in 2008, please.

    Backed by the Neighborhood Preservation Society of Hawaii, we are advocating for the approval of the Homestay Ordinance in the form now before the County Council.

    aloha, Sam Lee

  22. absolutely right, Joan.

  23. The "Neighborhood Preservation Society of Hawaii" is a bullshit made-up Sam Lee organization of one not registered with the State or IRS and a Google search can only find it on your blog, Joan. Sam = Bullshit.


  24. Neighborhood Preservation Society of Hawaii.
    Thanks 6:10 for trying and failing to discredit a respected community leader with words like;
    "Bullshit made up Sam Lee organization."

    Let's bring that accusation up a notch;

    "Neighborhood Preservation Society of KAUAI."

    Now that's an organization that would
    definitely have some members.
    And THAT'S
    no bullshit.

  25. Sam is a very well respected leader and for good reasons. Sam is a no bullshit kind of man.

  26. Looks like these creeps are renting out tents at both Hanalei Bay on the beach and at Taylor Camp. Wonder if they have a commercial permit for camping on conservation lands? 772. dollars for 1 week of camping , wow, what a rip off .
    Enforcement please

    Backpacker Hawaii: Hanalei Bay in Hanalei
    Tent in Hanalei, United States. Backpacker Hawaii provides pop up lodging services catering to families and groups looking for an overnight outdoor experience. Expe...

    Extra people: No Charge

    Cleaning Fee: $45

    Security Deposit: $250

    Weekly Price: $772 /week

    Cancellation: Strict

  27. sob, sob.

    No end to stupidity, 6:10

  28. @ May 13, 2015 at 11:21 AM

    You're right the "investor's" who purchase land here are driving up prices, but for them to profit through ILLEGAL TVR's and B&Bs is wrong. On top of it, the north shore doesn't have enough infrastructure in place to support all of this. If the investors were just second home owners that would be a different story (and some are just that), but illegal short term rentals needs to stop. It's called supply and demand and it's definitely influenced Nshore prices and helped push locals out of the area. Hawaii's always had to import building materials, but prices in certain area's have increased dramatically in the last 15-20 years. (Specifically in areas where illegal TVR and B&B's are notorious.)

    And FYI KIUC actually has done a lot to lower utility bills. -Haven't you looked at yours lately? Not to mention, they are leading in renewable energy efforts. They deserve a little credit for making headway.

  29. 6:10 PM

    Sam Lee is well respected. You sound like a whiner maybe someone should pass you a tissue as well.

  30. Ah, not to worry. In the near future, when our beaches are gone and our coastal infrastructure is under water, ain't no tourist coming to Kauai.

  31. R U serious 7:47 ? are U a survivalist?, a anti government skinhead? R U crazy? what the County is doing is regulating people who cannot regulate themselves and who don't give a damn for anyone but themselves. Its like dealing with a belligerent kid. sometimes a good spanking is necessary.

  32. whats all the bleating about the county misinforming folks about permits to run their BnBs?
    From the looks of things nothing they were told back in the day gave them cause for concern as they rushed into the money pit. So the advice they were given maybe was wrong, meanwhile they scooped it up, in many cases for years. Fast forward to 2015. Finally the County sorts things out and says, permits are required - stop! Instead of bitching, you guys should be grateful you got a free ride all these years.

  33. The people who say the county misinformed them are full of it. I heard one lady say it was in 2001 she asked, way before everyone who rented transient accomadations was permitted. If you did not get a permit and continued to run your transient rental, you cheated for all these years and should not get nothin extra for your illegal operations.

  34. amusing slander of one TVR doesnt come close to taking into account the illegal practices ongoing for decades. "Hui"'s were the trend, mainland money buying a home, insulating itself with only "friends" staying there, taxes going back to mainland. Noone seems to care about the upscale realty companies gaining a lease for homes in Poipu and elsewhere, then turning around and renting shorter term as under the wraps vacation homes.
    When the entire system of checks and balances, renting and enforcement, make it worthy of any backlash, then you all can be on the same page

  35. Yes, 11:11.

    Residents have seen what you describe happening all over kauai. Scammers at work, gaming the system for profit. Finally, people are realizing this is never going to stop unless gamers are MADE to stop. Jump on the STOP the GAMERS WAGON. It's time !

  36. It seems that a lot of people are conflating illegal TVRs where a whole house is rented out, with homestays where people are just renting out rooms in their house so that they can afford to live here.

  37. There's no confusion. Both are ILLEGAL.

  38. Not illegal if they have a use permit

  39. @10:27 am,
    Absolutely right! There is a small home on ab8000 sq ft lot in Hanalei that is listed for foreclosure. The County assessment is $ 1.7 milllion. Thanks to TVR's and B&B's increasing the property value so home owners can't afford to pay their taxes. Sad situation. The County needs to step up their game with enforcement. Close it down if it's illegal.

  40. use permit? don't seem many of your friends doing TVRs or BnBs bothered.

  41. Was watching today's meeting on my computer. Way over the top ridiculous, Sounded like there was a bunch of people talking like they support what the Neighborhood Preservation Society stands for; and thats no Bullshit

  42. man, u wanna hear sob stories? check out the Hoike rebroadcast of yesterday's hearing. redickqueless.

  43. I would like someone to point to the regulations that require a B&B permit.
    The planning commission director said it is "clearly" required by Ord 864.
    But the current comprehensive zoning ordinance is 935 and it states:

    "SEiCTION 2. Chapter 8 of Title IV of the Kaua'i County Code, 1987, as amended, and Ordinances Nos. 803, 8i3, 843, 849, 864, 876, 883, 886, 887, 894, 896, 903, 904, 912, 918, 919, 924 and 928 are hereby repealed in their entirety and replaced with the following:"

    And I find -nothing- in the CZO that suggests a Homestay is not allowed outside of the VDA, nor can I find anything that clearly states a homestay requires a use permit.

    So, I'd appreciate someone telling me which ordinance to look up.

  44. check out the sections dealing with residential and ag districts.. its crystal clear what is and what is not allowed; including short term rentals.

  45. Anon@7:02
    If you're talking about Ord 935, it is NOT at all clear.
    Give me a specific paragraph.

  46. Read the Garden Island.


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