Tovin Lapan
Tovin Lapan

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.

Kauai mayor Derek Kawakami signed separate memorandums of understanding with the two companies that outline a system for tracking the properties listed on the websites. The memorandum with Expedia Group, signed June 25, marked the first voluntary agreement between a Hawaii county and a short-term rental platform. The agreement with Airbnb was signed June 29.

In general, these types of agreements are a developing trend as platforms work to smooth out relations with local jurisdictions that continue to pass new regulations for the industry, Expedia Group vice president of government affairs Amanda Pedigo said.

"It's a relatively new thing," she said. "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."

'Under the new agreements, all properties listed on the sites will have to include their Tax Map Key (TMK) with the listing. The platforms will collect the information and provide monthly reports to the county, which will in turn verify that each TMK is valid and the property is within the county's designated hotel and Visitor Destination Areas (VDAs), the only places where short-term rentals are permitted. Current hosts have 60 days to add a valid TMK to their listing, and moving forward, properties without one will be removed from the platforms upon notice from the County of Kauai. Dialogue for an agreement began more than a year ago, Pedigo said.

"We've been working on the best way to help," she said. "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 TMK, which already existed, is linked to every home in the state, and allows the government to identify those properties operating outside legal zones."

"I would like to thank Expedia Group and our Planning Department team   for working together for nearly a year to clear a path for our visitors and responsible vacation rental owners," Kawakami said in a statement. "Most importantly, this partnership will help the county more effectively enforce our vacation rental laws."

The agreements with Airbnb and Expedia Group spell out largely the same system for monitoring the listed properties.

"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 in a statement. "We hope this agreement serves as a fair, common-sense model for other counties looking to promote compliance and leverage the benefits of homesharing." 

The Expedia Group has been in talks on a similar agreement with Maui County, according to Pedigo, and while all of the Hawaii counties have some type of short-term rental ordinance, Kauai is the first to enter a memorandum of understanding to aid enforcement.

While the agreements were in the works for more than a year and unrelated to the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Pedigo said the timing is beneficial to help jump-start tourism again. 

"The pandemic has hit the entire tourism economy very hard," she said. "And when the time is right to reopen tourism, we want to make sure it's done responsibly."

Expedia Group has put out a new model for cleanliness standards and has been working with properties on updates on safety and sanitization.

"What we're finding is, at least anecdotally, as communities begin to reopen slowly and responsibly, vacation rentals are attractive options," Pedigo said. "It can give you more control over social distancing and not having so many shared spaces and surfaces."

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