Molokai Vacation Rental Owners File Lawsuit To Lift Restrictions

Jul 14, 2020

A vacation rental association and four homeowners have filed a federal lawsuit against the county of Maui claiming their rights have been violated by restrictions placed on short-term vacation rentals on the Hawaiian island of Molokai.

In a statement released Monday, the group said Maui County violated their rights to due process. Some of the homeowners, the lawsuit said, must cancel reservations and answer “potential claims” from customers as a result of the county's action. Some owners had permits that would have allowed them to operate into 2021, the statement said.

“Instead of grandfathering in existing permit holders, they told my clients -- with no due process whatsoever," said the group’s Honolulu-based lawyer Terrance Revere. He added their short-term rental housing permits "were being yanked away,”

The lawsuit names the county, Mayor Michael Victorino and the head of the Maui County Planning Department. Calls to those officials seeking comment were not immediately returned.

The bill was signed into law in March and has not yet gone into effect. It sets the number of short-term rental properties allowed on the sparsely populated island of Molokai to zero. The bill said the action was based on recommendations set by the Molokai Planning Commission in 2017.

Short-term vacation rentals have been subject to new restrictions across Hawaii in recent years.

The group said they met with the Maui County Council among other officials before filing the lawsuit.

"We met with County Council members, with the Mayor and with the Planning Department. Ultimately, they were not able to protect these Molokai property owners and residents,” said Jen Russo, executive director of the Maui Vacation Rental Association, in a statement. The association is among those suing the county.

Maui County Council Chair Alice Lee said in a phone interview that decisions to allow for vacation rental permits are made on a case-by-case basis and that the board considers concerns from the community in making their decisions. She said the county was not targeting those that lived on Molokai.

"We're going to have to deal with this in court," Lee said. “If there needs to be a reduction in the amount allowed or an elimination of the amount allowed, I believe that is within the purview of the council. So we will discuss the finer details in court.”

Lee said other areas of the county could also face a reduction or elimination of permits.

"Primarily the council looks at community concerns because, after all, a lot of these vacation rentals are located in residential areas," Lee added.