KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii (AP) — Hawaii County has processed nearly all of its short-term vacation rental applications, but it could be months before the units are allowed to operate as a result of the coronavirus.
The Hawaii County Planning Department completed its review of applications for about 4,000 units received after implementation of a mandatory registration system last year, West Hawaii Today reported.
But under emergency health restrictions issued by the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the rentals can be used only to house tenants who were already there when the restrictions went into effect or workers for essential businesses or operations, such as first responders.
Vacation rental occupancy statewide was 5% in April, the first month after Democratic Gov. David Ige’s March 26 mandatory 14-day quarantine for travelers.
Hotels that were allowed to remain open had an occupancy rate of 8.9%, according to data provided by the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
Ige held a video conference with county mayors last week that included discussion of reopening short-term rentals statewide. Some mayors indicated a preference for the rentals to remain closed, especially in residential areas.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell estimated there are 800 legal vacation rentals on Oahu and another 8,000 operating illegally.
“As we come back to new normal, (they) should be in resort areas and not in our neighborhoods,” Caldwell said.
Maui Mayor Mike Victorino said he would like to keep visitors in the resort areas of his county without “utilizing our residential facilities.” Hotels and resorts should open first and reestablish themselves, he said.
“We have a large number of illegal vacation rentals, and many are closing them down,” Victorino said.
Kauai Mayor Derek Kawakami said his planning department is working with police and the National Guard to ensure transient rentals are not taking tenants.
Hawaii Mayor Harry Kim said he did not believe short term rentals will be allowed to open soon.
“Yes, we need tourism. Yes, they’re a basic economic industry here. But everyone should know, this is our home,” Kim said. “Our priority is the safety of the people in the state. Everything else has to come second.”
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. The vast majority of people recover.