Maui Mayor Richard Bissen announces bill to phase out vacation rentals in apartment districts

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Mayor Richard Bissen said it is important to note that “most, if not all, of these TVRs impacted by this legislation were previously built and designed for workforce housing in West Maui. “Our goal is to return them to their intended purpose,” he said. PC: Wendy Osher (5.2.24)

Thousands of short-term vacation rental apartments could begin switching to long-term housing for residents as early as July 1, 2025, for West Maui, and Jan. 1, 2026, for the rest of Maui County in a proposed measure announced today by Mayor Richard Bissen.

The mayor was backed in his televised announcement by members of the Lahaina Strong grassroots advocacy group, Molokaʻi Council Member Keani Rawlins-Fernandez and members the Mayor’s Lahaina Advisory Team.

“My proposed bill will revert all apartment district properties to their intended long-term residential use by removing the exception provided to those properties built or approved prior to 1989,” Bissen said. “We may rebuild our beloved Lahaina, but if we don’t return Lahaina to the people who represent that unique community – if we don’t recognize the faces of our friends and family as we repopulate Lahaina, we will have lost this fight for our people, and for my administration… even one more family lost is one too many.”

The announcement comes a day after the state Legislature’s passage of Senate Bill 2919, which allows the counties to phase out vacation rentals. The measure was fiercely debated, including testimony before the House Finance Committee on April 2.

While on Maui Tuesday for the groundbreaking of the 450-unit Ka Laʻi Ola temporary housing project in Lahaina, Gov. Josh Green pledged to sign into law the measure that clarifies transient vacation rentals are not considered residential uses in state law and may be phased out.


During this morning’s news conference, Bissen said that with the county’s authority to regulate visitor accommodations affirmed in Senate Bill 2919, his administration will pursue a county ordinance to phase out and repeal transient vacation rentals in Maui County’s apartment districts.

The proposed bill will be submitted first for review to Maui County planning commissions before going before the Maui County Council. Strong pushback and legal challenges from vacation rental owners are expected throughout the process. The first public hearing on the bill will be before the Maui Planning Commission on June 25.

“I recognize this is a topic requiring robust and meaningful discussion,” Bissen said, encouraging public participation in the review process.

“If successful, this legislation will support the return of approximately 7,000 transient vacation rentals to the local housing market and specifically 2,200 in West Maui,” Bissen said.

He added that there are more than 700 fire-displaced families and 1,785 people still living in eight hotels, down from nearly 8,000 people in 46 hotels shortly after the wildfire disaster.


Rawlins-Fernandez said the bill prioritizes housing opportunities for residents over the interests of off-island investors.

“Our families are being uprooted and moving away every day,” she said, thanking supporters of the measure for taking “immediate action to correct an injustice that commodifying our apartment units has had in the county since the ’80s.”

Asked about expected opposition to the bill, Bissen said there has been a reluctance, so far, to address the issue — “that’s why it’s been sitting and sort of festering.”

“It hasn’t gotten better, and it’s not going to get better,” he said. “Now is our best opportunity because we need it now, but we probably needed it years ago.”

Rawlins-Fernandez said she expects hours of testimony when the bill comes before the Maui County Council, which will hear vacation rental owners’ “argument about protecting their investment properties, (or) their second, third, fourth, fifth home when our residents have lost their only home.”


“We’re prioritizing our residents,” she said. “What good are jobs if you don’t have anywhere to live? Where are our workers supposed to live? They can’t clean these condos, these stores, these hotels if they don’t have somewhere to rest their head at night.”

When asked if she believes the County Council will pass the measure, Rawlins-Fernandez said, “Absolutely.”

The measure would affect properties on the so-called “Minatoya List,” which refers to former Deputy Corporation Counsel Richard Minatoya whose legal opinion led to vacation rentals in apartment districts to continue or “grandfathered” despite being a non-conforming zoning use. Their use can continue as long as it does not stop for more than 12 consecutive months.

The “Minatoya” list covers condominiums, apartments and planned developments that are not hotels but that can lawfully conduct short-term or vacation rentals without any type of state or county permit.

In 2019, a Maui visitor lodging inventory showed 11,115 parcels as “residential condominiums used for transient lodging.”

Vacation rental properties are heavily taxed, and there was no immediate estimate on the measure’s long-term impact on Maui County property tax income.

Lahaina Strong movement said in a statement the collaboration with Mayor Bissen highlights its success and will end its occupation at Kāʻanapali Beach. The grassroots group has been rallying for “dignified housing” and asking leaders to repeal Minatoya list transient vacation rentals. Lahaina Strong pledged to provide community support for the measure as it goes through the public review process.

Paele Kiakona, Lahaina Strong organizer and spokesperson, said the announcement of the vacation rental phase-out measure is “a step forward to restore dignity and hope to our families and bring our communities back together.” PC: Wendy Osher (5.2.24)

“Lahaina Strong began our Fishing for Housing campaign in Kā’anapali Beach in November of last year, establishing an occupation in the heart of West Maui tourism to bring awareness to our fire survivors’ dire need for long-term dignified housing,” said Paele Kiakona, the group’s organizer and spokesperson. “As our top priority, we demanded immediate action to get our people housed, and the Minatoya list, a list of short-term rentals exempt from going through the typical permitting process, was our initial focus.”

“In Lahaina alone we have over 2,200 units on this list,” Kiakona said. “These mostly off-island owners have benefited immensely from turning our apartment-zoned housing into investments, displacing working-class local families from our communities long before the fire. Today, in unity with the Mayor’s administration and advisory committee, we take a huge step forward to restore dignity and hope to our families and bring our community back together. We call on the Maui Planning Commissions and the Maui County Council to immediately support this critical bill.”

Jordan Ruidas, founder and campaigns coordinator of Lahaina Strong, said: “Mayor Bissen’s action today is a testament that amazing things can come from devastation… This was won through the struggle of our grassroots movement, which put the opportunity and need to tackle our Maui vacation rental crisis into the dialogue through relentless advocacy, public education, community organizing — and even a 174-day and counting sustained occupation of Kā‘anapali Beach.”

Ruidas thanked Mayor Bissen for his partnership and leadership and said: “Now, we call on the Maui County Planning Commissions and County Council to swiftly join us in action to ensure dignified housing for fire survivors and return our communities to local people.”

Members of the Lahaina Strong group gathered at the Kalana O Maui Building in Wailuku. Today marks 175 days into their Lahaina Strong Fishing for Housing occupation and camping. The group officially announced that they will begin the process of de-occupying Kāʻanapali Beach. PC: Wendy Osher (5.2.24)
Brian Perry
Brian Perry worked as a staff writer and editor at The Maui News from 1990 to 2018. Before that, he was a reporter at the Pacific Daily News in Agana, Guam. From 2019 to 2022, he was director of communications in the Office of the Mayor.
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