Kauai residents receive enticing letters to list homes as short-term vacation rentals

VRBO responds to complaint with apology and promises not to solicit for rentals where they are illegal

Kauai residents receive enticing letters to list homes as short-term vacation rentals

KAUAI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Kauai’s prosecuting attorney has a warning Tuesday for vacation rental companies who may be encouraging illegal rentals.

Last week, residents from Waimea to Hanalei reported receiving form letters from VRBO, looking for homeowners who want to cash in by listing their properties as short-term vacation rentals.

"For a limited time, we guarantee you'll earn $1,000 in January or we'll pay you the difference," the letter said.

Prosecutor Justin Kollar also got one in his mailbox.

He says that's troubling since he lives outside the designated visitor destination areas.

"I checked my mailbox, opened the envelope, and there was a letter from VRBO telling me how much money I can make if I start listing my home. I was very disturbed by that," Kollar said.

Kollar says VRBO needs to respect Kauai's zoning laws before mass mailing recruitment letters to homeowners.

"If they're going to be engaging in this kind of activity, they should really know the legal landscape that they're playing in," he said.

Kollar says if he finds the company is enticing residents to break the law, his office will take action.

On Kauai, it's illegal to have new vacation rentals in most communities, and Kollar also wants homeowners to be aware of the consequences.

"You're looking at very steep civil fines, up to $10,000 a day in civil fines. You're also committing a misdemeanor for each day that you engage in the conduct, so you're looking at significant jail time," Kollar said.

VRBO responded with an apology for what it called “a mistake.” Christina Song, with public relations for HomeAway and VRBO said, “within hours of being notified, we proactively reached out to government officials in Kauai to explain the origins of the mistake. We are working to institute procedures to ensure this doesn’t happen again and remain committed to maintaining open lines of communication with local officials, customers and community members.”

Similar letters were also sent to homeowners on Oahu and Maui. One was received by Hawaii state Representative Cynthia Thielen whose Kailua home is also neighbor to a number vacation rentals operating without permits.

Kauai, like the rest of the state, is dealing with a housing crisis.

A report released earlier this year by the Hawaii Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice found that one in eight homes on Kauai is a vacation rental.

The county has been trying to crack down on the illegal ones.

Joshua Rudinoff of Kauai Exclusive Management and Realty says they use VRBO for their listings, but he was also surprised this type of letter was blasted out.

He agrees homes in residential areas should be saved for local families.

“If they all turn into vacation rentals, it’s a huge strain on our community. It is surprising that (VRBO) wouldn’t have taken a closer look, dug a little deeper in our community about what’s allowed and what’s not allowed,” Rudinoff.

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