Doing Things Right On Kauai

Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami continues to have the magic touch that might indicate a clear path to running for governor in 2022 if that’s his ambition.

He must have Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell and Lt. Gov. Josh Green, the two leading names-in-the-news right now, looking over their shoulders.

First it was Kawakami’s deft handling of his island’s Covid-19 defenses that won the public praise of Gov. David Ige. Look at these figures for the infection numbers: Oahu 808, Maui 128, Hawaii 96, and Kauai just 42 and no deaths yet on that island or on the Big Island.

(Yes, I’m aware of the population difference: Oahu 959,000, Hawaii 187,000, Maui 128,000, and Kauai just 67,000. But even at a 3 or 4 to one population ratio, the Garden Isle’s infection rate is low.)

Now there’s this, which seems to elude others:

Kauai County officials have approved an agreement with Expedia Group, owner of VRBO, and Airbnb, on an enforcement plan to help the county tackle short-term rentals violating island ordinances.

The memorandum with Expedia Group was the first voluntary agreement between a Hawaii county and a short-term rental platform. The agreement with Airbnb was okayed on June 29.

Mayor Kawakami, left, signs the first agreement with the Expedia Group/VRBO

It means that every time VRBO or AirBnB gets a posting from Kauai for a vacation rental, they will forward to that county the tax map key of the property so it can be checked to see if it’s in a short-term-rental exemption zone — or not.

If the answer is not, then the property owner is ipso facto in violation of Kauai’s zoning law.

Kauai’s tax map keys

“It’s a relatively new thing,” she VRBO’s owner Expedia Group. “Our goal is to increase cooperation with communities all over the country to develop sound policy solutions to foster healthy tourism. We hope this agreement will be a model for the state of Hawaii going forward.”

The would-be renters have 60 days to add a valid TMK to their listing, and properties without one or using a fake one will be removed from the platforms upon notice from the County of Kauai.

Expedia says “The county had been asking to post the address for the listing on the site, but our hosts feel that is a security threat. You are letting people know there is a house at this address that is empty a lot of the time. So we settled on the tax map key, which already exists, is linked to every home in the state, and allows the government to identify those properties operating outside legal zones.”

 Kawakami says “Most importantly, this partnership will help the county more effectively enforce our vacation rental laws.”

“Short-term rentals are a vital source of supplemental income for local residents, and for many the only source of income,” Matt Middlebrook, Airbnb’s head of public policy in Hawaii, said. “We hope this agreement serves as a fair, common-sense model for other counties looking to promote compliance and leverage the benefits of home sharing.”

Airbnb also agreed to educate hosts about Kauai’s short-term rental laws. Airbnb will share a link of the County’s licensing and information web page on its responsible-hosting page and share information about the County’s requirements with hosts ahead of the launch of the mandatory TMK field on its listings.

This is a big step forward for Hawaii, where illegal short-term rentals got totally out of control. There seemed to be no way for local governments to catch violators in the act. The renters and the rentees often colluded to pretend there was a long-term contract that had to be cut short due to some emergency.

With this new agreement on Kauai, an ad for a “vacation rental” in a tax map key area not zoned for that will be a dead giveaway.


Published by Bob Jones

Journalist since age 19. St. Petersburg Times, Noticias y Viajes in Madrid, Overseas Weekly in Frankfurt and Paris, the Louisville Courier- Journal, the Honolulu Advertiser, KGMB-TV, NBC News foreign correspondent in Africa and Southeast Asia, and MidWeek columnist. LL.B LaSalle University Law. 3 years in the U.S. Air Force. Covered: Vietnam War, Iraq #1 in 1991. George Foster Peabody Award for distinguished journalism for reporting in China. Married to Denby Fawcett, one daughter. Brett Jones.

%d bloggers like this: