Volcano residents concerned by vacation rental law

Hawaii: Vacation rental operators in Volcano fear the county’s latest vacation rental law will hit the community hard after the Kilauea eruption last year.

The law, which comes into effect on 1 April, will prohibit certain short-term vacation rentals outside hotel and resort zones. Existing vacation rentals in the excluded zones will be required to apply for a nonconforming use permit by the end of September in order to be allowed to continue to operate.

While the law has been controversial around the island, it is especially so in Volcano, where dozens of vacation rentals are key contributors to its economy.

During a meeting of Volcano business owners with tourism advocacy group Experience Volcano, many expressed concern and confusion about how the bill would affect the community.

Co-owner of Volcano vacation rental At the Crater’s Edge, Chris Becker, said: “It worries me, but from a delayed perspective.”

Becker added the requirements placed on rental operators to apply for the nonconforming use permit might cause smaller rental locations to slip through the cracks and that could cause a snowball effect that would weaken the entire community.

He said: “If the pool of rentals dwindles, people will find other places to go.”

To apply for the nonconforming use permit, owners need approved building, plumbing and electrical permits, proof of property taxes, certification for parking, verification of notices given to all neighbours within 300 feet of the property, and must comply with a range of “good neighbour rules” that include noise limitations.

Any rentals that continue to operate without the permit might be fined as much as $30,000.

Others at the meeting discussed possible ways to spare Volcano the effects of the law, including re-zoning the community as a resort zone.

Councillors also discussed ways to market Volcano as an attractive destination in order to stimulate tourist activity after the extended shutdown of Hawaii Volcanoes National Park last year due to the Kilauea eruption.

County councilwoman Maile David said Volcano’s brand of tourism needs fresh vital marketing after its primary attraction, the national park, was closed several months.