Though Hawaii has said it will lift quarantine requirements for out-of-state travelers on Aug. 1, it appears Oahu's short-term vacation rental sector will remain on lockdown.

Kirk Caldwell, mayor of the city and county of Honolulu, recently announced that he would extend a ban on all non-hotel/motel lodgings that provide guest accommodations for less than 30 days. The ban was originally instituted in early April as part of the county's Covid-19 state of emergency restrictions.

The county of Honolulu comprises the entire island of Oahu, which, as of February, had a pre-pandemic vacation rental supply totaling about 213,800 unit nights, according to the Hawaii Tourism Authority.

Like Oahu, the mayors of Hawaii, Kauai and Maui counties had mandated similar emergency shutdowns of their short-term vacation rental industries earlier this spring. In early June, however, a group of short-term rental owners enlisted Honolulu-based law firm Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert to send a letter to Hawaii governor David Ige and the four county mayors on their behalf, threatening legal action if those counties failed to grant "equal treatment of legal short-term rentals compared to hotels and motels," which had been deemed essential and were permitted to continue operating.

The counties of Kauai, Maui and Hawaii revised their emergency orders and as of June 16 allowed short-term vacation rentals to begin welcoming guests.

"Oahu (the City and County of Honolulu) is the lone holdout, with Mayor Caldwell saying as recently as [June 29] that legal short-term rentals on Oahu would not be allowed to reopen, despite the lifting of the interisland travel quarantine and despite the governor's announced plan for reopening some trans-Pacific travel without quarantine on Aug. 1," Greg Kugle, an attorney with Damon Key Leong Kupchak Hastert, said in an emailed statement.

"Our view is that a legal transient vacation rental is as safe, or safer, for visitors to quarantine, and that the governments should not be in the business of choosing which guest accommodation sectors survive this crisis and which do not," Kugle added.

Though Kugle provided no further update on a possible lawsuit, Neal Halstead, vice president of the Hawaii nonprofit group Rental By Owner Awareness Association (RBOAA), believes a legal showdown is likely inevitable.

"There will probably end up being a lawsuit targeted toward the mayor and city council of the county of Oahu," Halstead said. "If you asked me eight years ago [if] I'd still be fighting with the county of Honolulu on [short-term rentals], I'd have said no. But they seem to have stuck with it and truly believe this is the right way to go."

Oahu's latest restrictions follow a recent round of stringent short-term rental regulations introduced late last year, which have significantly curbed the number of rentals operating on the island.

"In Oahu, they've already made it virtually impossible to become a legal rental, and that effort has almost become sort of the populist agenda there," Halstead said.  "It plays well to the voting public, but it's not really practical. It's going to be some time before tourism gets back to where it was as of January of this year, and the state is so dependent on tourism. They're going to have to realize that there may be some compromises they need to make in order to keep the coffers full."


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